BOOK REVIEW: You don’t need a godfather

Author: Elango R

Price: 250 INR

Success is one of the key items that each of us wants for sure. Be it personal or professional sphere, succeeding and winning given immense feeling of accomplishment to individuals or teams. In the corporate world success, especially in the long run depends not only on skills but also in other key aspects like situational leadership, moral authority, managing dynamics of the organization and building a brand for individuals. While there are many books that take deep dive in each of the items mentioned above, the book ‘You don’t need a godfather’ provides a very pragmatic blueprint creating success.

There are three unique things about this book. First the way it is written is very different from others. Author Elango takes his example conversations with his little son Agastya and maps them to corporate environment by taking some of the key learning’s from his son. As a father of three year old I can understand this viewpoint, mainly because we tend to learn so many things from our children provided we are having deeper listening to what they are saying. For example Agastya, while watching a cricket match between India Vs. Ireland makes a statement ‘Appa I hate Ireland’ mainly because the opposition take the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar, thereby calling the opposition bad. When things go wrong we seem to blame that problem is ‘out there’ whereas we as individuals might be root cause of the whole issue.

Second uniqueness of the book is its simplicity. Author conveys some of the key messages in a very simple manner. In my article about ‘Fill = 200 INR, Bill = 2000 INR’ I called out some examples on how professionals compromise on moral values in the name of making some silly money. In the similar lines author gives examples of people with very high academic qualifications losing their jobs mainly because their integrity related issues are found and asked to leave the organization. As professionals it is very critical not to compromise on such items which plants critical seeds for success.

Third uniqueness of the book is about real time case studies he used for explaining some of the key messages. Some of them include — How individuals should see constraints as opportunities, how individuals should build a brand for themselves by doing small things correctly and differently and how to learn from many of the mistakes we do in professional careers etc. I am also glad to see one of my college seniors story is mentioned as a case study, where many of his early constraints (Ex: Learning in regional medium school and difficulties faced to learn English, Missing out on initial set of opportunities faced for traveling abroad but still hanging on, Switching over to an internal sales job which was considered as inferior initially but later creating wonders in the job etc.). As I know this individual for the past 15 years, it’s really heartening to see his story getting mentioned in a book like this.

If you are looking for a light weight, yet powerful guide for navigating thru the corporate jungle, You Don’t need a Godfather is highly recommended. Backed up with real life case studies and drawing experience from his HR profession, author Elango provides great insights into creating success by you own. After all we don’t need a godfather to succeed in life.

The importance of hanging in there when things dont necessarily go your way

Nothing succeeds like success they say… There is an incredible “High” that success brings to you and your team. Everyone has a spring in their stride, the energy levels are high and there is spotlight that your team is basking on. Even as a manager, you are able to more easily keep your team motivated and also get better cross functional support for your initiatives.

However, things don’t always go or remain hunky dory in business. The best strategized and executed products do sometime fail, best planned projects sometimes don’t get delivered on time. The team starts feeling the pressure, there could be growing cynicism, dropping shoulders and an executive team that is focusing on your initiative more than you really care for.

How efficiently leaders and teams respond when they have their backs to the wall is a critical quality. As a Product Manager you need to be able to communicate though words, and more importantly, your body language that of you and your team are in charge.

In a Yoga course that I once attended, the teacher taught me the ability to say, and more importantly feel, “So what! What next?”. If you can truly get into that mode, the “What next?” allows you to divert your thinking and therefore your energy on exploring the next set of opportunities. The idea is to basically compartmentalize the “So what” and the “What next”. The former bringing to a realization that you are where you are – basically screwed; and the latter letting you focus on the steps to move ahead – do we need to pivot / do we need to re-look the strategy for this product / should we put in better processes. ALWAYS look for the next set of opportunities. They are around, if only you can compartmentalize and look hard.

Even in your hiring of critical positions, its a good idea for you to check how the person responded to an adverse situation and what it taught her. A recent very popular blog on Harvard Business Review was a good one on these lines – http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/12/why_i_hire_people_who_fail.html

Interestingly this holds as good in sports as in business. We have all seen crickets teams that drop catches / miss run out chances / show fraying tempers when the chips are down and then we have seen teams that are keeping up the pressure even when things don’t go their ways and show a spirit which conveys, “We just need to break THIS partnership, and we’ll be back in the game”. The second mentioned team might still not break that partnership and possibly go on to lose, but that very attitude of always backing themselves puts them in a great position to get right back into the game.

– NWritings

Focus on the effort… as much as the result

A few years back, my team was preparing for a big product release which was widely anticipated across multiple regions of the organization. Many customers had committed that the product would be available on a certain date. One advantage that many Indian companies are grateful for is that IST is almost 13 hours ahead of pacific time (where many of the customers we had promised to were based out of). So, if you had committed delivery on 15th April to the customer, you could deliver it at end of day IST. In fact you could even deliver it before end of day pacific time 🙂

At 2 pm IST on the release date we realized that a few components that would make up the release had not yet converged. I got the entire team into a war room and it was all hands on board. The whiteboard listed out the pending items and were being ticked off as and when things moved ahead. The list at 2:00 pm looked pretty long for comfort. We also put in place a process of hourly updates on the rush towards the release that I as the PM would send out to the functions that were anticipating the release. It was all hands on board and the team was pretty pumped up to do the release that day, Whatever it took. I was convinced that the team would go for it even if it took well past dinner that day, or even after breakfast the next morning!!!!

The activity over the next several hours was pretty hectic and by close to midnight  the hourly updates showed good momentum towards the finish. the next day 2:00 am update announced that it was all ready to ship and the final builds would be available in the next hour or so. But trouble was right around the corner!!!

One critical use case broke minutes after the 2:00 am update I decided that we would not ship it with that bug – we would fix it. The team, weary as they were after more than 17 hours of non stop slogging, was no mood to back out – not after all the effort. We chalked out the plan to fix the stuff. No one from the team had left.

My CEO who was around that day at 2:30 am for some other meeting strolled into the war room and asked, “So, we’re all set???”. I said, “We are not!!! We have identified a critical bug that I would want to release the product with and have turned the release status from GREEN as of 2:00 am to YELLOW sometime back. I’m confident we will fix it in the next hour or so”. I will never forget his response, “AWESOME!!!! Go for it guys” and walked off. I knew he didn’t not mean it sarcastically.

The fixes converged over the next hour or so and we did make the release at 4:45 am (still early afternoon in bay area), but the CEOs response was interesting. No trace of disappointment, no lectures about why things were left to the last minute (even if there were, its best addressed another day). The commitment of the team, right from PM to the newest intern, was good enough for him to be convinced that this set of guys would make it happen.

As the CEO of my earlier company often said, “You cannot assure success… but you can sure deserve it”

NWritings

BOOK REVIEW: The new age of Innovation

Author(s): CK Prahalad and MS Krishnan

The context of innovation has been over the years. In the world of business (especially the ones which are consumer centric) providing superior ‘customer experience’ has become the core, on which organizations build their competitive advantage. However building this customer experience (which varies from one customer to other) is not easy to build from the organization point of view, as they may not have all the necessary resources to do that. This is precisely where leveraging global networks (thanks to the power of Internet) and co-creating value along with customers become very critical, thus forming the new age of Innovation. In the book titled ‘The new Age of Innovation’ authors CK Prahalad and MS Krishnan provide a framework for building this new age of innovation in organizations, which is essential to stay competitive.

Before jumping into details of the book, let us understand the concept with a simple example: The iPhone ecosystem. Given the fact that Apple iPhone (and Apps) are used by millions of customers worldwide, they will have unique set of application requirements depending on their need (ex: App for a local eCommerce site). However Apple alone cannot achieve it by developing millions of applications as they may not have the necessary resources to do that. In order to address specific customer needs, releases a Software Development Kit (SDK) using which can be used by any individual for developing applications and host it as a part of the App-store. This is precisely what authors call it as N = 1, R = G model of innovation. In order to address a unique requirement of a customer (N = 1) firm can leverage Resources (R) that are available globally (G).  In the similar lines of Apple, many organizations are innovating around this N =1, R = G model, some of the examples being Wal-Mart (retail) and ICICI (Banking).

After introducing this new model of innovation, authors dive deep into intricacies in subsequent chapters by taking various aspects and case studies. The first aspect talks about having robust business processes, which lay foundation for innovation as it integrates business strategy, business process and operations. The very process of doing a business activity differently can act as a competitive differentiators, thereby enabling innovation. ICICI Bank in India is a classic example where they transformed the face of Indian banking system by being successfully executing the business process innovation. Also by consistently building on the process they are able to introduce services like internet banking, online trading account, cost-effective support system etc. The subsequent chapter talks about deriving useful insights (ex: customer behavior and expectations) with data analytics by listening deeper into customer transactions. The analytical information derived can be used to take specific actions (ex: Dynamic configuration of resources, continuous improvement, strategic redirection) in order to meet customer/market expectations. Especially for organizations like UPS or FedEx, deriving useful intelligence information from global supply chain becomes critical.

Third aspect of innovation is about having robust Information and Communication Technology (ICT) architecture where building scalable and intelligent systems for responding to unique customer demands.  For example, Google accesses 40 billion distinct pages to create unique personalized experience (N = 1) for its customers, which is aided by strong internal ICT architecture. All the above mentioned three aspects (business process, analytics, ICT architecture) cannot be successfully implemented if organization and its people are not flexible and adaptable enough to cope with changing business environment. In order to achieve the desired results, strong organization commitment should be there in terms of senior management evangelism, strong accountability with alignment and clear understanding of ICT architecture, which is covered in subsequent chapters.

The people goal can be achieved only when the organization evolves by taking real time decision backed up with strong data-points, strong yet flexible organizational structure and pro-actively addressing customer issues. The other key point is to improve the capability of the organization by understanding and continuously making competency improvement in the organization. Authors explain various case studies (ex: Madras Cements) and how they have leveraged the people part to gain business advantage out of it. The final chapter of the book talks about a list of agenda those global managers to adapt for making the innovation work in their teams and organizations.

In my opinion, the context of Innovation has changed to a larger extent recently. What was initially considered as a “cool product” may not necessarily innovative in business sense as it may not make the organizational business successful. Taking customers and their unique experiences into account is a very important for innovating in business today, where many aspects mentioned in the book can be handy. Another very interesting observation is to see many case studies from various Indian companies and their innovation models, which is quite inspiring.

Hitting out at competition in public – Watch out for the back lash

Traditional wisdom has usually been in favor or focusing on YOUR product / company strengths in promotional campaigns. In fact, may marketing methods deliberately advice against mentioning competition in your campaigns since it “unnecessarily” provides your competition visibility at your expense. However, in many cases (especially when you are trying to grab market share from that competitor), a feature comparison is pretty common – car companies routinely push out feature to feature comparison with competition. It is usually characterized by a bunch of ticks against your product and a lot of crosses against your competition.

The latest brand war between the Times of India and The Hindu is pretty interesting in many respects. Both these are age old news papers and have a huge circulation. While The Hindu is strong in the South (many Chennaites cannot think of a morning without The Hindu), the TOI has a much higher circulation across India, even though there don’t have a significant presence in South India. In terms of the content, they are as different as chalk and cheese. While TOI (in my opinion) focuses almost entirely on showbiz, celebrity, skin show and a little bit of news, The Hindu (again in my opinion) largely dishes out pretty “boring” but reliable news  – words like “unbiased journalism” and “ethics” are more associated with The Hindu.

See how the story unfolded here – http://whataworldagain.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/brand-wars-the-times-of-india-vs-the-hindu/

and a very good analysis of this at http://forbesindia.com/blog/business-strategy/how-toi-woke-up-the-hindu/

I think there is a lot of truth in both the campaigns, The Hindu doesn’t really “wake you up” and the TOI doesn’t really give you news.

Now coming to TOI’s strategy of initiating this war, I think it was a good move, irrespective of who has the last laugh in this war. I say this in spite of The Hindu hitting back in style (of course, you can expect TOI to hit back again in more style, but we’ll wait and watch). TOI had almost no presence in Chennai and any advantage in terms of the attention (and circulation) that they can get there will be a bonus. Everyone knows that The Hindu lacks spice and by clearly calling that out, TOI has offered itself as an alternative to the spice-hungry among the Chennites. There are people in Chennai who still don’t know that the actress associated with “size zero” is Kareena Kapoor, and I do believe overall, TOI is going to see a push in their circulation in Chennai – even with people who acknowledge that The Hindu’s response was clever. With close to zero cost of the newspapers expect many Chennai homes to even get both The Hindu AND TOI.

Now, coming to why I feel TOI should watch out for the back lash. Even after The Hindu’s clever response, their job is only half done. Now what they need to do is to promote this message in areas where TOI is traditionally strong, and educate TOI’s readers that “All Bollywood and no news makes Jack a dull boy” and tell them that they have been missing out on “news” at the expense of Bollywood and celebrity stuff. How well The Hindu can promote their response across the country (and in this internet age, its comparative easier) will determine how this war pans out. They already have a presence, a rather weak one, in Mumbai and a this could be a great chance to grab some market share in Mumbai

The Hindu clearly has the opportunity now to turn the hunter into the hunted.

NWritings

A new year resolution – Talk Straight

I recently read a brilliant (and hugely popular) article on the HBR Blogs.  Readers of Dilbert too would recognize how this buzzworks are getting irritatingly more prevalent. Few people would disagree with what the author says, but continue to use most of these phrases in our work – in both internal communication and in external communication with customers and partners. There is a general perception of “smartness” when a person uses many of the terms mentioned there.

Referring to people as “resources”, time as “bandwidth” are other examples of the same – “We are constrained on the bandwidth front” makes you sound smarter than “We don’t have the time”. “I’m in the process of socializing this initiative among the various stakeholders” makes you sound smarter than, “I’m talking to the people about this to get support”. “Leverage”, “(Doesn’t) get the big picture”, “Evangelize” and “cross-functional” are among the other buzzwords thrown around. Deep down I don’t think anyone enjoys talking or writing like this, but this seems to be endemic and people continue doing this because everyone else does it.

Narayana Murthy was bang on when he said in one of the interviews, “In India, articulation is mistaken for accomplishment” – and using these phrases is associated with better articulation…. and since usage of these phrases is a global phenomenon, looks like Narayana Murthy’s observation seems pertinent to not just India.

So, here is my New Year resolution. “Cut out the buzzwords and keep it straight”. “In the process of” can be dropped from most sentences that you write and so can “productivity enhancement” and “organizational synergy”. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep a check list of these buzzwords handy so that you can “check” every mail to cleanse them of these before hitting the Send button.

Keep it simple! — NWritings

Top Five for LinkedIn

The professional networking tool LinkedIn has emerged as the largest online network with more than 9 million users. Unlike the social networking sites Facebook, LinkedIn is the tool for professionals to do serious business. Whether you looking for a new job or forging new business partnership, LinkedIn is the tool you should look forward to. With adverse economic conditions, it becomes all the more important to have a stronger professional network to ask any sort of help. Here are my top5 for LinkedIn usage.

One – Build your network: First and foremost, build your professional network using LinkedIn. This tool is inherently designed for professionals with a no-nonsense approach. If you are new to LinkedIn, start inviting your friends to join. In case of you already have a presence in LinkedIn look forward for every single opportunity to add new members into your network. By adding new connections, you increase the likelihood that people will see your profile first when they’re searching for someone to hire or do business with. In addition to appearing at the top of search results, people would much rather work with people who their friends know and trust. Remember, the success in professional life has got more to do with “whom you know” than “what you know”.

Two – Keep it updated: After building your profile, it’s equally important to keep it updated. Be it change in organization, role or project make sure you spend an hour to update your LinkedIn profile. Also make sure you capture your complete professional history by maintaining previous employer information in reverse chronological order. This increases the possibility of adding new connections to your network in form of previous colleagues, peers and supervisors. Recently LinkedIn has introduced “what are you doing?” field, thanks to Twitter revolution. By keeping the status updated, you can also get connected with professionals working on similar project. An element of caution here: Don’t publically announce your employee confidential information, which may create business violation.

Three – Get recommended: This is where the real power of LinkedIn lies. Using the ‘Recommendations’ options you can seek recommendations from anyone in your network. The more recommendation shows up in your profile, the trust level on your profile increases dramatically. When it comes to long term career building, having a trustworthy record plays a critical role more than anything else. These recommendations are used by companies to validate background check on employees. Also be gracious! If you find anyone of your fellow-professional worth recommending, make sure you do it without even them asking for it.

Four – Build authenticity: LinkedIn offers multiple other options by which you can build authenticity in the online world. Participating in ‘Question and answer’ sessions by offering focused answers count a lot when it comes to measuring your expertise in a particular area. In order to emphasize the importance of it, LinkedIn has an internal ranking system where the person asking question can rank the answers. The person whose answer chosen as ‘best answer’ will be added as ‘expertise area’, thereby increasing your authority on the subject that you claim you have expertise. This is a simple but powerful way to build your authenticity online.

Five – Personal branding: LinkedIn allows you to make your profile information available for search engines to index, which is ranked high by popular engines like Google. This is a good way to influence what people see when they search for you online. Also by following simple Search Engine Optimizations (SEO) like: having a customized public profile URL, including it in your email signature, adding LinkedIn badges in your blog or website can create a personal brand for your name in the online world.

What other options you can think for LinkedIn?

This article I wrote for MyBangalore portal, quite long time back. The original link for this article can be accessed by clicking here.

When Tendulkar drops a catch, Dhoni doesnt have to tell him to focus

Its a big Test match and India are desperately looking for wickets to tighten the noose around the Aussies. Ishant is streaming in and bending his back on a wicket that is providing the assistance needed for a determined bowler – bounce and movement off the seam. The Rainas and Kohlis have been doing their best with their constant yellings of encouragement. Hussey, or Mr Cricket as hes known, has been the lone source of resistance from the Aussies and they will surely go down in this key test match if hes gone. The ball is pitched outside the off and angling away and the otherwise cautious Hussey pokes it at tentatively. Ninety nine times out of hundred Hussey would have left this alone, but not this time. The ball takes the shoulder of the bat and flies off towards the waiting hands of Tendulkar in second slip for a straight forward regulation catch. Ishant has already sensed a wicket and is almost ready for his celebratory leap when the great man fumbles and the ball loops off his fingers – he had grabbed at it too early. Ishant is distraught and every Indian fielder has his hands on the head. The camera zooms in on Tendulkar and he knows he has screwed up – his face says it all. Numerous replays from different angles ensue. Dhoni and Dravid in first slip just walk to Tendulkar, pat his shoulders and unruffle his hair with a possibly a “take it easy…. come on” and move on to focus on the next delivery.

Now, this is exactly what most managers DONT do. The typical manager reaction to a screw up is long monologue, a dressing down and a stern warning of a “you better not do this the next time around”. They view this as the appropriate time to “educate” the employee on how things are done. Now, I’m not asking managers to turn a blind eye to screw ups or accept incompetence. However, In most cases the person who screwed up is already aware of the seriousness of his error and what he needs is a dose of confidence and being reminded of his achievements of the past. Back him!!! Help him remember the great slip fielder that he usually is and restore his confidence to be prepared for the next ball – unless this was the third catch hes dropped that day… in which case you want to move him to fine leg and pray that the ball doesn’t go there. Even if there are issues with the “catching technique” of Tendulkar, it is best addressed at the end of the day’s play.

Managers should look at themselves as “Coaches” who are vested in bringing out the best in people rather than “supervisors” who are trying to tell people how things are done.

 

– NWritings

Personal Effectiveness in Team Building

Being an ‘effective’ professional is the key for becoming successful in a team environment. In technology industry cross-functional teams (consisting development, test, documentation and customer support members) is no longer a theory, but a norm these days. Understanding and handling perceptions, developing deeper listening skills, working in a team with complementary skills — are key for long term success as a professional.

Recently, I have shared a presentation to my team, which is shared below. With Agile (more on this later) becoming new way of software development, it becomes all the more attention for us to pay equal attention in shaping such behavior in our teams.

What is your opinion on this?


Building Leadership pipeline

As the popular saying goes, Leadership is all about ‘Building more leaders’ in the organization. Identifying, coaching and grooming high potential individuals play key role in building the leadership pipeline. In technology industry, it is critical to choose an individual who bring in technology passion, people quotient and business acumen. However these folks are not available ‘read-made’, need to be built over a period of time by grooming.  In this story we will delve into three pragmatic aspects that need to be considered in the grooming process.

Identify strengths

Assuming that you are a leader who is looking forward to build your next set of leaders, the first step is to identify key strengths among the set of individuals, who can potentially take up the leadership position. Leaders need to spend significant amount of time by developing deeper listening to these individuals for assessment. Here are the typical questions you need to consider against each individual.

  1. What is the technology depth Vs breath an individual has? Is he a detail oriented problem solver or generalist with common set of skills?
  2. Does he possess significant relationship building skills? What is his individual track record in interacting with customers?
  3. How good is his Emotional Quotient? Can he take people together in a compassionate manner? How does he react in pressure or conflicting situations?
  4. How good is his interest in self development? Has he shown interest in investing himself by taking up organization specific training programs or considers it as an overhead?

The above mentioned questions may not be conclusive, but it would provide you with a clear indication of an individual’s strengths. Once it becomes clear, he needs to be positioned to take up leadership roles, depending on his/her strength area. At the end of this assessment process you will have the list of potential people who are competent to some extent to take up leadership positions.

Value alignment

While the first step talks about an individual’s strength and his competency, it is definitely not suffice to choose an individual as a leader. Here is where the critical factor of ‘value alignment’ comes into picture. An individual may be extremely good with certain skills, but if they don’t have necessary value alignment with the organization by possessing right values, it will become a disaster in the long run. Here are the few questions to assess the value alignment of an individual:

  1. How strong is his integrity? Can you trust on any numbers that he gives which could be in as simple as the estimation he provides for his own work completion? Does he bloat up the time just to ensure he is in a comfort zone?
  2. When any mistakes happen, does he protect his team members or passes on the blame to them?
  3. How well he understand organization core values and vision? Has he developed understanding of how the organization core values maps to his work?
  4. Does he feel comfortable to share the bad news first?
  5. Does he convey the same message to higher ups and to the junior members?

Again, the above mentioned questions may not be conclusive but clearly indicate whether an individual is a value aligned or not. Given a choice it is always better to choose a guy with strong values than the one having higher competency, mainly because competency can be groomed.

Coaching process

Once we identify an individual with stronger grip in competency and value aspects, he needs to be positioned in the team to do the leadership role without giving formal authority. This means rather than announcing ‘here is your next team leader or manager’ it is always better to groom them in the role by taking step-by-step approach. As a part of the coaching you need to identify his gap areas for taking up the leadership role and align it with current responsibilities and performance management system. That way an individual also understands that he has to evolve into the role by working in gap areas gradually.

On the job, the individual needs to be given incremental responsibility. To start with few coordination activity can be identified (ex: project metric collection) by working with various members in the team. Team should be clear about his new responsibility, mainly to avoid any potential conflicts. Slowly but steadily, such responsibilities needs to be increased depending on how well an individual is able to adjust with this new role. When he does any mistakes during the process, you need to support him by providing proper orientation. Rather than putting him into a full blown leadership coaching program it is always better to coach him on the job with real time examples like this. Along with that he can be nominated for internal/external leadership training programs.

Some of the initial set of challenges that leader-under-grooming could be facing, where orientation need to be provided:

  1. Handling conflicts
  2. Influencing individual members without formal authority
  3. Handling negativity in team member
  4. Self doubt or over-confidence

Once this incremental coaching is done, the leader-under-grooming will eventually graduate and become a well seasoned leader. Now he can be announced as a formal leader to the team by giving complete control of the team. However on a regular basic you need to do necessary check and ensure things are moving as planned.

Of course, it is very easier said than done. It is a continuous journey where you need to invest lot of time and energy in grooming. There can be many issues/challenges that will come on the way which you take it up resolve. After all when it comes to leadership, nobody can say ‘I am done!’