Performance management – Beyond ratings & rankings

The topic on performance management (popularly known as performance appraisal) is one of the least understood and complex topics in management. Especially in Indian context, often it is linked with annual/bi-annual salary raises/promotions. At an outset it might look like a mundane ceremony done for name-sake,where favoritism (or impression with direct reporting manager) plays a major role. But the real spirit of performance management and the idea behind it goes much deeper than that.

When I started doing performance management in my team, I understood the awareness among members is much less. In order to improve that and build better mutual understanding, came up with some material which is shared below with some modifications. Going forward, I will be sharing a series of presentations under this topic. While there might be minor modifications among organizations in operational aspects, the core message remains the same.

Linux sucks!

The Linux operating system might have created a revolution, thanks to the ‘open’ way of building software. However as a consumer desktop operating system, it has to go a long way. Even today it fails to provide a seamless experience for users. I have been associated with Linux (both as a user and programmer) for the past 10 years and love it as a engineer. However on the user experience side it sucks big time even today. Let me list out my painful personal experience at various times.

Year 2000 – It was the time when I bought my first assembled desktop. Having Linux was definitely a need, mainly to do assignments and projects. It was also the time when the concept of ‘X windows’ (Linux version of Windows) became popular where many of my geeky classmates started tinkering to get it to work in assembled computer with all different vendor-device combinations. Having a Windows kind of interface (in form of GNOME) was really cool, as all we knew was boring black and white SCO UNIX terminals. When anyone got it to work, it was a matter of pride. In spite of multiple attempts and taking help from friends, I failed to get it to work. It was so annoying to see the ‘startx’ command miserably failing every time.


Linux sucks
Linux sucks

Year 2006 – Having graduated to a Acer entry level laptop, it was time to try out Linux again. Ubuntu (v4.0) was becoming famous by then and my geek community (with different set of people) were boasting how easy to install Linux and the way Ubuntu has revolutionized installation process with ‘live CD’. After getting free CDs (after all who wants to miss out on freebee), tried it out again.Phew! This time around the X windows problem is solved, felt really good to have it working. The happiness lasted hardly for couple of days when the ‘grub’ got corrupted (god only knows why) during normal boot-up process. It not only ruined the Linux, but my Windows partition also got wiped out.

Year 2011 – Another 5 years passed by and who can save peevish me! Again its to experiment with Linux (with Ubutu v10.0) , this time in my new Toshiba laptop. Aahah! One week after installation Ubuntu Linux is still up and running with no issues. This time I thought of really taking baby steps for using it for normal purpose and immediately found the wireless card is not getting detected. Running Ethernet cable for connecting to Internet is not a possibility, given the fact that I have a naughty 2.5 year old, who will use it for playing tug of war! After going thro’ multiple forums I understood v10.0 doesn’t support my Broadcom 802.11n adapter. Thanks to the way Linux is built, downloaded multiple *.rpm and fixed a bunch of dependencies associated with it. No luck! The wireless card was not getting detected at all. In the mean time v10.10 got released and thought an upgrade will solve the wireless issue. After all who can save me after determined to get screwed up! After following same-simple-steps and v10.10 faithfully deleted my Windows partition, in-spite of me choosing the proper option of dual-boot. Along with my Windows partition I lost about 20 articles I have written just before hosting

I don’t know if I am unlucky or something wrong between Linux and me. In spite of trying for 10 years I am still not able to get it to work for day-to-day usage. Definitely installation process improved over the past decade but far from helping a novice to get it up and running. In an era where customer experience is far more valued than a technological advancement, not sure where Linux is heading in terms of consumer desktop operating system.

What is the point in getting something for free, but not usable?

BOOK REVIEW : SriLanka – From war to peace

Sri Lanka

Price: 395 INR
Author: Nitin Gokhale

Given the fact that I am a Tamilian, Sri Lankan civil war and struggle of Tamils has been very special for me. After 25 years of fiercely fought battle, the LTTE story came to an end when their supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran’s dead body was found in Vanni forest on 19th May 2009. Of course! There are still rumors floating that Prabharakan is alive, but nobody can deny that LTTE has been completely washed out of the country. As far as the Sri Lankan army is concerned their ‘mission impossible’ has become a reality. There is a long history of three ‘Eezham wars’ (1983, 1990 and 1994) before this one, where LTTE literally drove out the army from North-eastern (Vanni)part. But this time it was different. Popularly known as ‘4th Eezham war’, what did the army do differently? How come the Sri Lankan army, which was perceived as a weaker side, eventually able to conquer the most dangerous gorilla group? Did Prabhakaran overlooked the options for peace when he was in complete control of Vanni? In his book titled ‘Sri Lanka – From war to peace’ author Nitin Gokhale (an NDTV journalist, who spent significant amount of time in war-field) provides deeper insights to the 4th Eezham war and subsequent fallout of LTTE.

During the formative years of LTTE (especially during 80s), India (especially Tamilnadu) was providing lot of support for their activities in multiple forms. LTTE leaders were able to move freely into various areas of Tamilnadu and politicians (especially MGR, who was born in Sri Lanka) were backing them up strongly to create their training camps in various parts of the state. However the mistake from LTTE came in form of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, that too in Tamilnadu, which not only ruined their relationship with India but also blocked support from Tamilnadu. The snowball effect of this single event has played a significant role in LTTE’s fallout.

When Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected as the president of Sri Lanka during 2004, he did two important things. First he extended the term of Commander Sarath Fonseka, less that 30 days before he was scheduled to retire. Second he recalled his bother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa from the US and appointed him as a Defense Secretary. The Fonseka-Gotabhaya duo was instrumental in coming up with a master-plan with deeper understanding of the LTTE, which systematically launched attacks for 33 months. On the LTTE side the same year marked a another important turning point when their eastern chief commando Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (popularly known as Colonel Karuna) had a major spat with Prabhakaran and eventually joined the Sri Lankan politics. It was the second costly mistake from Prabhakaran.

The Sri Lankan army might have lost first three Eezham wars, but Fonseka learned a lot about LTTE. Apart from war strategies, he clearly understood the actions need to be taken internally for strengthening the army, both in physically and mentally. Thanks to Colonel Karuna’s exit, the ‘Eastern Province’ (consisting Maṭṭakkaḷappu, Ampara and Trincomalee) became more vulnerable, which became the first target point for the army. The initial strategy was to create a ‘task force’ of 8 people, who will initially infiltrate into the LTTE regiment. When enough disturbance and panic situation is created, army will switch into traditional approach thereby capturing the land by killing the militants. This mixed approach was never expected by the LTTE, who initially under estimated the army operations. Eventually the eastern region came under the army’s control on 19th July 2007. It was really a significant milestone for the army, who would never imagined getting such a victory for decades together.

Having said that, moving further into the Northern side (known as ‘Vanni’ consist of Mannar, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Kilinochchi) is not that easy. It was under LTTE’s control from 1983, where Prabhakarn had a strong hold. During the first three Eezham wars, Vanni remained as a distant dream for the army to capture. Fonseka was very well aware of this, hence created attacks from multiple ends across all districts of Vanni. Due to multi-sided attacks LTTE’s veteran Colonel Balraj lost his life due to heart attack. During such crunch times, LTTE has relied on Eastern Province from where Colonel Karuna used to send troops. This option was completely ruled out this time, where the higher level LTTE leadership was forced into the front line. With systematic approach and pushing army leaders to give more than 100%, eventually army was able to completely capture Vanni. With this significant milestone, followed by the death of Prabhakaran marked the end of 4th Eezham war during 2009. Through multiple chapters Gokhale provides finer details on how the Sri Lankan army captured each LTTE regime in Vanni, which is too difficult to summarize here. One of the notable points to ponder is the way Sri Lankan government handled the media. Unlike previous wars, they clearly understood that LTTE had a great deal of coverage in the media, mainly thro’ TamilNet website. In order to counter attack a brand new department was created for handling media and reporters across the globe, which also provided regular updates via their Defense website.

Primarily I read the book to understand the details of the 4th Eezham war, which was well covered with finer level details from the Indian journalist point of view. Gokhale also touches upon India’s stand in this war. With central (congress) and state (DMK) had opposite viewpoints in supporting LTTE even though they are part of UPA. However both of them could do little to prevent the genocide happened against Tamils during the fag and of the war.

Leaving the political view apart, I would like to conclude with the following questions to ponder:

  • This ‘military victory’ of the Sri Lankan army means end of terrorist activities from LTTE? Will this rule out all possibilities of future resurgence?
  • Will the concerns of Sri Lankan Tamils will be addressed by creating an inclusive society? Are the so called ‘humanitarian operations’ will result in betterment for civilians who lost everything in this war?
  • Did Prabhakaran took the right step by keeping thousands of civilians in hostile during last phase of the war? Were civilian’s interests protected during the war time, as far as LTTE is concerned

In the current world order, weapon aided militant activities in the name of getting freedom might not yield any long term solutions. However it is very critical to provide peaceful living for affected Tamils, which they rightfully deserve.

Innovating for Emerging markets

Emerging markets (popularly known as BRIC countries) will play more significant role, going forward. However the context for innovation is way different from developed economies. Innovating for emerging markets is been one of my favorite topics, made quite some study in this area. Most of my findings are available in the presentation below.

Innovation – Its all about connecting the dots!

Innovation has become core differentiation factor for every organization that exists in the planet today. It is imperative for organizations to innovate in order to stay competitive in business.Leaving business jagrons and B-school case studies apart, what do innovation really mean for engineers like us? Is it all about inventing next ‘Google kind of thing’ apart from working on tightly scheduled, ever changing, delivery commitments? Definitely not. Innovation in engineer’s context is all about ‘connecting the dots’. This very sentence has gained mainstream media attention and become a buzzword after Steve Jobs mentioning it in his famous Stanford University speech. However the thought process behind this very sentence is four decades older.

It was a pioneering research work done by European inventor Edward De Bono, sowed seeds for a new way of thinking. De Bono named it as ‘lateral thinking’, which is commonly known as ‘out of the box’ thinking. Our right side brain, which is creative and intuitive by design is responsible for this way of thinking. The author stated that the lateral thinking can be cultivated in any individual and eventually throughout the organization by ‘connecting’ things. What is this connecting is all about? How different this lateral thinking is from ‘sequential’ or ‘normal’ thinking? Can any individual innovate by connecting things? The answer is BIG Yes.

Let us try out a small experiment De Bono suggests. Open your English dictionary, choose any two random pages and write-down the word that appears in the right bottom.Now try to connect these two words in a wackiest possible way. Say for example if my words are ‘program’ and ‘desert’ then I can connect them by saying ‘writing a computer program to measure temperature of remote desert’. There are numerous other ways to connect these two words and each one of them will open up new connections. As you keep living with these connections, you will eventually hit upon a problem to solve. When sequential analytical thinking is applied on the problem, an innovation is arrived. This is also called as ‘blue ocean strategy’ in business world, where the culmination of two different ideas from different industries creates a killer idea.

Let us talk real. Cut to 1978. Hewlett-Packard (HP) company, formed their labs for nurturing innovation in Palo Alto, California. An engineer working on developing thin film technology for the hardware chips was testing the response of thin film to electrical stimulations. Accidentally he applied more electrical simulation, which superheated the medium, and the fluid under the thin film was expelled. This particular accident caused the engineer to create new connections and come up with a problem of ‘what if the jets of fluid can be controlled, instead of heating the thin film how about heating the ink and making it flow on paper in a controlled fashion?’ Upon successfully applying analytical problem solving resulted in invention of Thermal Ink Jet (TIJ) technology which laid the foundation stone for thermal inkjet printers and the rest is history. By ‘connecting’ the thin film over heating with ink heating made the accident as an innovation.

The connections doesn’t end here. What about ‘connecting’ this inkjet printer businesses with shaving razor business? Gone crazy? Most of us would have observed that Gillette sells its safety razors at a very competitive price but their blades are expensive. You are forced to buy Gillette blades (even though it is costly) because you have already bought the safety razor. What about selling printers at a very competitive price, making it very compelling for customers and price ink cartridges at high cost? Thats exactly what the business is doing today. What started off as an accident has resulted in multi billion dollar worth business. It is very obvious that at every step new connections emerged (by connecting dots) resulting in problems, which eventually became a great innovation. In our daily work life also we are definitely seeing many dots. The challenge is up to us to identify and connect them which eventually turn into an innovation.

Another important to note – Not all innovations necessarily result in a new product idea. Innovation in business has got much broader scope where it can come in multiple forms like process, offering, services, channels etc. Stay tuned for more detailed on various types for innovation. In the mean time have fun in identifying dots as a part of daily work!

The invisible delta

In business, the term ‘value proposition’ is so often used; Definitely I am not a B-school expert, who is going to provide detailed philosophy around it. From a pragmatic perspective, this particular term, which I call as ‘invisible delta’, eventually differentiates a particular business from its competitors. This delta may not be visible for everybody but for people who really has passion for serving their customers. However, when the same is implemented in large scale and becomes successful everybody starts wondering ‘How did I miss out?’. Well – thats the fun about business. Recently I came across two typical examples, where businesses understood this delta very well. Let me share few learnings from them.

Last week I walked into one of the Namdhari fresh outlets in Bangalore, which supposedly sells fresh vegetables and fruits. Right from the moment I walked into the shop I could personally get the ‘fresh’ feeling by the way they have arranged every section in the shop – be it vegetable, salad bar or fruit section. Every customer wants fresh vegetables and fruits, but only very few shops are able to mantain this much amount of freshness and live upto what they say. This differentiation stems from the way Namdhari’s supply chain is organized. Termed as ‘uninterrupted cold chain’ the company is having a continuous cold chain network right from the produce is harvested. Every other component in their supply chain (refrigerated trucks, pre-cooling room, grading hall and colder transit) ensures that freshness is guaranteed for the customer. How many so called ‘fresh’ vegetable vendors would be able to think and implement it? How many of us perceive that the real success of Namdhari is not from its air conditioned outlets but from its uninterrupted cold chain? Isn’t the real value created in the supply chain, than doing more marketing?

Cut to a different industry. Online shopping has taken a new turn ever since Flipkart joined the party. Started off as a online bookstore, the business had a very simple vision ‘providing superior customer experience’ which the Indian online consumer is lacking for long time. There were many online stores started before Flipkart, but the differentiation created by creating a un-compromising supply chain, which ships products ontime to customers. In order to achieve it Flipkart even went to the extent of starting their own logistics company and used hybrid model (reliable courier + own service) to ensure customer goods gets delivered on time without fail. The focus was given not for making the web site more user friendly or adding more features, but into optimizing the supply chain to deliver the best.  In the similar lines I can think of multiple businesses (ex: Dell computers, United airlines, MTR food), where the value proposition comes from working in (commonly perceived) ‘no problem’ area, which eventually makes a remarkable difference for customers. Rather thats where the strategic thinking plays a major role.

Do you agree that strategy is nothing but looking into the same problem from a different perpective? Doesn’t this invisble delta creates a huge differentiation for customers? Isn’t it the perceived problem and actual problem is so different?

Related link: Strategically yours

Writing resumed!

Its been more than an year since I stopped writing!

Its time to update about what happened for the past year and a half. During 2009, one of my friends from MyBangalore asked me to write columns about Technology and Business in their city focused a niche portal, which was just out of the womb. I shut down my blogspot site to explore new dimension in writing, that too with a huge challenge of keeping my articles city centric. It gave me tremendous experience and exposed me to various interesting aspects of online media industry in India. Today, MyBangalore has grown leaps and bounds and I am happy to be one of the early contributors.

In the mean time, multiple personal and professional priorities kept me extremely busy, because of which I was not able to write regularly. At workplace I was able to make significant contributions by being part of building next generation web connected printers. It gave me tremendous opportunity to build a new solution from the scratch by winning so many battles every day. This also gave me an unique opportunity to work with many talented, committed and exceptional individuals who made it possible. This new idea is still in the hands of early adapters but the R & D experience I gained was definitely very rich. After bringing the overall solution to a reasonably stable state I decided to move out of HP, given better responsibilities. Joined Huawei Technologies about 6 months back still in the process of learning whole lot of new things. At personal side things changed rather become much better. Our little one is growing up very fast, its so much of fun being a parent. She has become our center of life by bringing so much of happiness and a new meaning to our life. Its been very challenging for my wife to manage her.

While so many changes and challenges, I was able keep up and do well with most of them but writing. It was hard to be away from writing as it has become my second nature. I also realized it not about being busy, but taking time out to do the things I enjoy most. After setting few other priorities correct, I have decided resume writing by having my own site. Thanks to Godaddy, I was able to setup this one within a week’s time. I also changed my mindset about writing. I am not going to have any target in mind. Often I tend to quantify everything, which eventually takes the pleasure of doing it. So, I will write whenever I feel like, which takes the pressure off. I will continue to write in the similar lines (Technology, Business, Books, Society), hoping to add more personal updates as well.

Thanks all for encouraging me directly or indirectly by writing comments, emails or passively reading it over the years. I hope this website would make our connections even stronger. Looking forward to hearing from all of you. Ah! Finally one big disclaimer – This is totally my personal blog filled with my own expressions, opinions and viewpoints. It has no relation with my present or past employers.