Post COVID-19 Recovery – A Challenge for Leadership and Corporations

With the relaxation of restrictions by the governments to stimulate economic growth; businesses slowly crawling back to normalcy and recovery. While business activity seems to be gathering speed, there is little sense of relief amongst the corporate leadership as the scars left by the pandemic will take a long time to heal.  Post covid-19 scenario is posing some serious challenges for the business leaders to manage not just business recovery but also emotional recovery of their employees. 

I do believe that the business story will go to script, the people side of the story can have a lot going on below the surface.  All might not be hunky-dory after all.  Let’s look at some of the possible challenges which leaders might face while navigating the post covid-19 scenario.

Mental / emotional wellness

This fact cannot be denied that the lockdown, work-from-home, recalibration of work relationships, fear of losing jobs, lowered income, uncertainty, loss of someone dear and fear of continuous monitoring and scrutiny not just of work but in personal life has taken a toll on the mental and emotional well-being of employees. Though it could possibly be a stretch to imagine that people may exhibit signs similar to PTSD, it could be closer to that.  Its like the soldiers or the doctors who find the normal life to be so inconsequential compared to the combat like situations they have seen on the field.  Many would have encountered life changing moments which would have made them significantly redraw and recalibrate the way they would like to lead their life going forward.  Now, with normalcy returning the fear that things would go back to old ways and drudgery, will be weighing heavily in the minds of the employees.

Social wellness

One of the positive fallouts of the pandemic was that the social wellness quotient seems to have significantly improved.  The upheaval had caused the society at large to collaborate and support each other to face the challenges posed by covid-19.  People demonstrated more empathy and care for others as they handled the crisis as a team.  They reconnected all those relationships which they had long forgotten.  Discussions moved away from just work and productivity to the well-being of self and others.  Increased use of digital platforms and social media networks during the pandemic helped increase the level and frequency of communication.  Keeping people connected 24X7.  There was a level of honesty and transparency and people felt comfortable being vulnerable with each other as they knew that all of humanity was going through this emotional upheaval.

So, what then is the challenge for leaders?  Employees are wary that they will no longer be able to spend that much time in self-care once they get back to the routine working patterns of the past.  They are wary that they would not have enough time with their family and relations and the balance they were able to achieve working from home will be lost.  More like an opportunity cost.  There is a danger of people now getting back to their competitive ways and away from looking at the larger good.  In the light of renewing face-to-face contact, people would again start drawing up their defensive walls in order to protect themselves.  Fear of being vulnerable at workplace will reappear in the minds of employees.  That would mean that leaders may find that people are suddenly withdrawn and cagy.

Team wellness

Informal networks, quick decision making, effective and efficient meetings, clear and concise communication and high level of collaborative work, absence of subjective judgments, were some significant outcomes, thanks to the pandemic.  Getting back to work team members would fear all that would vanish and the conflicts which were rested or forgotten because of the crisis would resurface once they join regular work. Team members during the pandemic could act independently and were given the freedom to decide and act on their own as long as they delivered results.  With the return to work the fear is of the hovering boss, the competitive colleague and limited freedom to operate.  The team and its members will be anxious about their future.  Businesses would possibly try to cut down expenses or would have planned for recalibrating teams that could impact negatively.  The uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity would add to the woes of the team members and negatively impact the overall mental wellness of the team.

Leadership wellness

The leaders themselves would have gone through great emotional upheaval due to the pandemic.  They would have seen several senior leadership positions being done away with already in order to cut costs.  Some positions were also made redundant thanks to the digital driven monitoring and control of performance.  Leaders themselves would be highly anxious about their jobs and their future.  This could significantly impact the way they would receive their teams when they return to work.  Leaders would also be susceptible to significant trust deficit with their team members as they would have unfortunately been tasked with relieving a lot of people from their jobs.  Team members would be tentative in all their interactions with such leaders.  Leaders would also have in their own anxiety been possibly insensitive while dealing with team members during the covid-19 period.  They would have become intrusive and overbearing towards their team members, thereby negatively impacting the relationship. Rebuilding trust will be a significant challenge for leadership while navigating the post covid-19 recovery.

How can a leader navigate the post covid-19 recovery phase?

Leadership needs to realize that it is not going to be as easy as it looks – getting back to work and start doing what they were doing before.  They may have to take a long hard look at the old habits of leading businesses and teams.  They have to re-prioritize, re-plan, adjust and redirect their resources for managing the recovery process. Leaders need to focus once again on the four key dimensions of high-performance teams – the S.T.A.R™

Stimulating Communication

In order for leaders to address the emotional and mental wellness of their employees, there will be a need to stimulate a communication climate which will be based on feedback, listening and more importantly sensitivity.  Teams would have to again go through with the forming, storming, norming and performing stages of development which comes with its unique set of challenges post covid-19.  They will be tasked with the need to hold ‘the critical dialogue’ or difficult conversation with their team members which would involve communicating new roles and responsibilities, work processes, performance goals and metrics.

There should be regular and extensive use of feedback in order to create the much-needed buy-in for the renewed work process.  The social distancing norms of a physical workspace would mean that people might not be as comfortable in each other’s company as they continue to grapple with the anxiety of the “what if”.  During the pandemic because of the remote working environment, there was a forced need for regular feedback, as that was the only way you could keep up to speed with what your colleague was doing.  The interdependencies were visible and clear.  That will get blurred as when leaders return to work, they may withdraw to old ways of working where ‘feedback’ would have often been minimal. Seeking feedback from ‘Employee Mental Wellness’ surveys will be an important step to take before getting the wheels of office work in motion. 

Leaders must encourage employees to speak up as often and as frequently as was the case while working remotely.  They must ‘actively listen’ to their concerns and seek to address them before they snowball into another crisis, this time driven by employee anxiety and emotional wellness issues.  They will have to put in the extra effort to have their eyes and ears to the ground and pick up even the slightest sign of distress amongst co-workers and deal with them immediately.  Remote working had helped employees to put their thoughts in digital form without any fear as they didn’t have to come face to face in meeting rooms with their leadership.  The small group side-conversations to discuss each other’s problems online was what helped many deal with their emotional issues in the safety of their home.  Leaders must provide the space and time for people to engage in similar conversations in the office to reduce stress.

Back to physical workspace would demand a high level of sensitivity from the leadership in dealing with employee emotions and understanding their mental state.  People would have redrawn their family roles and responsibilities and were just about getting into the comfort zone of collaborating on chores on a daily basis.  Help was ready any time any family member wanted; right from helping with the dishes, children’s study, tidying up the rooms – all pitched in. Leaders must understand that when you call the employees back to work, they not only have to deal with the renewed work process but also with the emotional pain of redrawing their familial responsibilities.  People cannot simply switch on and off from work and family as you would tend to expect.  Heightened level of sensitivity will be the key.  There is a need to not just communicate, but overcommunicate at this point.

Trust

The pandemic also brought about in employees the trauma of losing jobs, reduced incomes, blurred lines of roles and responsibilities.  As businesses were trying to cut losses by reducing their physical office infrastructure, the casualty was also jobs.  Though it was the demand of the situation and a hard decision for many businesses, they had no choice but to relieve many of their jobs.  The problem was that those leaders who were tasked to communicate this difficult message have to face the remainder of employees.  They would always be suspicious about their leader’s intention and every conversation, each move, will be closely scrutinized.  The leadership themselves may be going through the anxiety as they must once again prove that they have and will manage the transition.  The stress of exposure and increased vulnerability impacts ‘trust’ greatly.

What can leaders do to rebuild the potential loss of ‘trust’ in teams? 

‘Openness and transparency’ in all transactions will be the key. Leaders must keep the employees engaged through dialogue.  They must enhance the level of transparency in decision making and keep the employees informed and involved.  Any closed-door meeting will be viewed with suspicion and should not be overlooked.  Agendas need to be shared and spelt out to team members and feedback must be sought regularly to increase the level of openness.

‘Integrity’ of leadership will be put to test.  Leaders need to walk-the-talk.  All the promises and commitments made in the last one year just to keep the team in good spirits need to now be followed through with visible action.  As the teams would have digital records of such conversations. 

This would bring in the dimension of ‘data privacy and security’.  Increased activity online during covid-19 pandemic also raised the concerns regarding cyber security.  As people moved completely to the digital world, they exposed themselves to potential cyber-attacks on their personal data.  As they heard how cyber criminals were taking advantage of the increase in online activity, now employees would carry forward such fears about privacy of official conversations as well.  Employees will be concerned that the ‘spoken words’ which could during pre-covid times be denied are possibly recorded on online communication mediums.  For example, a conversation regarding the boss in a chat room would now be vulnerable to exposure by any vested party.  Leaders must take any negative conversation / gossip emerging from such sources with a pinch of salt and put to rest the fears that employees would have regarding misuse of their personal data.

Leaders must ease their teams into post covid-19 routines by continuing the informal networks, collaborative digital spaces, social media use and other informal activities they would got onto during the lockdown.  An example could be celebrating the birthday or anniversary of a family member of the employee.  During the pandemic, lot of companies found that team members were able to participate in social events of co-workers, getting to know them more personally, which contributed to increased bonding.  The same in some form must continue once the teams return to physical workspaces.  There will be increased pressure on leaders to enhance the level of ‘Trust’ in teams and openness, transparency, collaboration and integrity will be the key to achieve that at workplace.

Accountability

When teams are faced with a crisis, the boundaries of work get blurred as everyone gets involved to ensure team success.  People may take up additional responsibilities and roles which otherwise they would be reluctant to do or may not be tasked to do.  This could also mean that they would have got a hands-on experience of working in a fluidic way.  Decisions were made without much fuss, agreements arrived at quickly, meetings became very efficient and effective and there was a visible increase in ‘commitment’ of employees towards the larger goal.  Discussions were no longer about “who will do what?” but “what can we do?” and “how to we get this done?”

With gradual return to physical workspaces, leaders will have to now relook and rewire the roles and responsibilities keeping in mind that they do not disturb the fallout benefits derived from the pandemic.  They shouldn’t suddenly start drawing boundaries around roles such that people get back to their silos.  The competency frameworks which existed pre-covid must be relooked at and employees must be coached to take on revised set of competencies which will help them in their way forward.  Independence and delegation with not just responsibility but authority should be the way forward.  Following through with employees on a regular basis must continue.  Leaders must get out and ‘manage by walking and talking about’.  Employees must be involved while redefining and redrawing roles and responsibilities. This will ensure ‘team wellness’ and increased level of accountability, leading to higher and sustained level of performance.

Results

Surveys done with business leaders indicated that there was an increase in productivity of employees during the lockdown and remotely working from home.  Employees were committed to deliver what was asked of them and did that by willingly stretching the working hours.  As long as the work was getting done, people unlike in the past, were not complaining about not getting back home in time to be with family.  The fact that they were with their family all of the time helped them to achieve the much needed ‘work-life balance’ or at least they could get a sense of the same.

In order for leaders to sustain the productivity levels of employees, they must be focused on providing the same level of balance to their people and create an environment where the focus is more on deliverables than on how many working hours is the employee putting in.  Organizations who were otherwise giving flexible working hours only to the few privileged senior employees must rethink and see how they can integrate the same for all employees.  Flexibility was one of the key factors contributing to employee productivity and that cannot and should not be taken away from them when they return to physical workspaces.  Processes need to be put in place which will ensure that employees don’t feel the pressure of close monitoring and have the fear of the ‘hovering boss’ once again.  Employees must be involved in re-defining goals and objectives to enhance “ownership”.

The Poison Of Knowledge!

The value of ‘experience’ cannot be understated. In this day and age of instant information sharing using digital media, more and more people are being driven purely by knowledge and are living their life based on the information they receive in plenty on a daily basis.  There is no validation whatsoever of the information being downloaded and people seem to be simply trusting whatever is coming their way.  Especially so in the case of ‘health’ related information.  People seem to be taking most of the information on health which comes to them on face value and becoming victims of misinformation.

Even ‘education’ has become more of theory than practice.  In the quest for churning out ‘literacy’ rates, it’s become more an assembly line production of degree holders who have  no idea whatsoever of the practicality of some of the

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knowledge which they have gained.  This is amply evident even in the highly ‘knowledge’ and ‘analytic’ driven equity markets.  The so called high profile executive fresh out of college, armed with degrees have fallen flat in the highly volatile world of the stock markets.  Even today, you find that the good old traders with hands-on experience make a lot of money.

In hiring new managers (today’s fad phrase – leaders), companies were enthusiastic to get bright minds (educationally) laterally into the system and made them to lead teams of highly experienced professionals – who had been there; done that.  The result – a complete lack of ‘credibility’ and ‘authenticity’ in their leadership.  They find it hard to gain the respect of people who they lead.

The reason is plain and simple – ‘Experience’.

Chanakya in his ‘Arthashastra’ clearly states that there is no use of knowledge if it is not backed with experience.  It turns into poison.

It is time that we gave importance and respect to experience in all fields.  Because ‘experience’ it is that brings high level of ‘credibility’ and ‘authenticity’ in who you are.

Work-From-Home – A Test Of Trust!

The past couple of months caught everyone by surprise; businesses and employees alike. While most large businesses had their ‘business contingency plans’ in place: no one would have ever imagined that the shift to remote work from home will be so sudden and swift.

Our firm, Equinox Consultants, an Indian human resource consulting and training service provider with more than 25 years of experience in agile ways of working like everyone else, had to transform our business into a remote-only operation, virtually overnight.

The transition to a work-from-home context was a breeze, as we have been operating that way for over a decade. The only challenge we had to and continue to work on is to transition all our contact training modules to a remote delivery model. When I say all, I intended to say that most of our services were already prepped for remote delivery.

In over two decades what we’ve noticed is that there are cultural traits to our self-managing organization that lends itself particularly well to remote working. It boils down to what I see as the essential building block of all teamworking and collaboration – ‘Trust’. The need for trust-building is even more amplified when you have co-workers working remotely.

I would like to share our own experience of successful remote working which will help your teams and business organization build and maintain trust.

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What’s worked for us:

Communication – Speed, Clarity and Frequency

The biggest pain area for people who work remotely is when they do not get quick, clear and continual communication from the stakeholders with whom they work closely. The fact that digital communication makes one feel that ‘Once I have sent a message, it is assumed that the receiver has read and understood it’. The onus then quickly shifts to the receiver to respond quickly to the messages he/she receives. Any delay can lead to ‘negative’ and ‘suspicious’ thoughts in the minds of the sender who may be prone to ‘imagine’ and attribute agendas.

So the ‘speed of response’ is of paramount importance to build and and sustain trust. The other important factor is to provide clarity – not just once but on a continual basis. Therefore my take is communicate, communicate, communicate. Share important information (even if it’s incomplete) right away once you have it. This will especially hold true in matters of financial, strategic decisions, of policy, priorities, accountability and daily goals.

If you keep people in the dark during uncertain times it leads to needless anxiety and worry. People work better when they are less stressed. Sharing clear and timely information across functions, and giving everyone an effective overview, means people can take action to steer the business in the right direction.

Frequency of your communication matters too. The lag should be minimal. Your quarterly should turn to monthly; monthly to weekly and weekly to daily.  That’s the paradigm you need to shift towards.  The longer the gap the higher the chances of disruption and break in trust levels.

Decision making will move towards becoming an ‘in-the-moment’ process where you just cannot afford to call for virtual or physical meetings all the time to discuss and take important decisions. When everyone understands what’s going on they will be able to make smarter decisions. Do whatever it takes to get the message out there.  Encourage people to speak up and openly share problems and challenges and provide continual updates on workloads.

Leadership will be put to test in remote working setups. There will be an increasing load on the leaders to communicate fast, frequently and with clarity. The importance of communication ability of your leaders couldn’t have been more than in remote working situations.

Openness and transparency

There is chance that Managers feel an increasing need to micromanage. They may fear that employees working from home might be less productive and doing personal stuff than real work. This will be accentuated by a lot of social media posts which showcase non-work skills of employees.  Such anxiety can lead to excessive control measures which might lead to a lot of stress and feeling of dissatisfaction.

The way to deal with such anxiety starts with building openness and transparency in your transactions.

You must keep all your employees informed all the time and shouldn’t keep them in the dark. With team members working from home it’s easy to forget to relay important information regarding specific roles, expectations and task deadlines. Providing enough context and ensuring your team have access to all necessary information is a must. Communicating rules of engagement, setting boundaries, the rationale behind decisions, seeking and giving continual feedback can go a long way in building openness and transparency. When your employees see visible actions of your trust in them they will reciprocate the same in your leadership.   The direct benefit of trust based on the foundation of openness and transparency is ‘speed’ of work.

Empower

An ability to decentralize the decision making process, letting go of hierarchies and giving your employees freedom to make decisions about their work is the key when you have your workforce operating from home.

When working from home, everyone’s managing themselves to an even greater degree as it is; it’s important to give everyone the full autonomy to do that in order for them to do it well. This is where situational awareness comes in: sharing objectives and goals is crucial. It makes it easy for people to manage themselves better in deciding what to focus on now and what to leave for later.

Set up communities of practice

An increased level of self-regulation would mean that your employees become more interested in learning how to do their work effectively. That would mean reduced need for a centralized training function to train the entire workforce or help everyone develop new methods for remote working. Instead, setting up of online communities of practice can help colleagues freely share tips and tools in a peer-to-peer network structure. Everyone is learning alongside one another

If someone is struggling with a particular task, it’s likely that someone else somewhere in the organization has already had that same problem and would have even solved it. The solutions to problems can then be shared freely across the organization which would mean that there is no time wasted in reinventing the wheel and all employees feel supported as they perform their roles. While most large corporations do have the knowledge management practices in place, our experience shows very limited use of such networks. The work-from-home scenario today helps to harness the power of communities even more and go on to increase collaboration leading to trust.

Digital socializing

Those moments at the coffee machine shouldn’t disappear just because everyone’s working remotely from home. Organizations must understand the importance of casual conversation and social connections. Use online meeting rooms for not just work but after hour hangouts as well. It’s a great idea to encourage people to come up with creative ways to build social bonds. It’s a great opportunity to involve families in the social events by organizing collective fun events and tasks.

It’s all a good time and keeps the socializing going. It’s important to check up on people too. During the pandemic, people will feel more anxious than usual, and there’s no way for your human resources team to take care of everyone. When people know everyone’s got each other’s backs, there’s less of a sense of isolation and more of a sense of trust: The feeling that, together, everyone will be able to continue doing a great job and achieve higher levels of performance even if it’s from the comfort of their homes.

Encourage ‘Doubting’ – a catalyst for progress

Doubting has been used and widely accepted as a negative term as its adverse effects are commonly acknowledged.  But by believing this and avoiding doubt is to choose not to think.  Doubt which is destructive is paralyzing.  It inhibits constructive thoughts and the power of will.  It blocks receptivity to the beneficent workings of the universe.  It produces a sense of hopelessness.  More importantly it resists progress and rejects ideas on the whims of ignorance, prejudice and emotion.

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But let us consider the constructive element of doubt.  The constructive element of doubt helps us  to question.  We doubt therefore we start questioning to know what is true.  Without this, if we merely accepted things as they appear to be, then would be no different than animals.  Ancient civilizations believed that the ‘Earth was flat’ till someone doubted this hypothesis and started to find the truth.  If man could not doubt, he could not progress, the world would have been mired in ignorance.  We would not be able to differentiate the theory or fallacious arguments from the truth if we did not question.  It is therefore important to apply reasoning.

In fact you find that it’s the doubt that decides the hypothesis.  Scientists take such theory and investigate.  Nothing is taken for granted.  The proposition is carried to a conclusion to see whether it works or not.  If it doesn’t then it is set aside and restructured.  Imagine if the scientists remained satisfied with the status quo of knowledge, there would be no progress.  That’s where the great lesson lies.

Doubt for me is a dynamic energy that should be properly harnessed to move us to progressive actions.  If by doubting we are able to destroy some of the most cherished and so called ‘normal’ we would be better off; than blindly following.  Doubt allows us to apply the test of reason.  If you can analyze ideas with unprejudiced respect and discrimination, you will more readily apprehend the truth and discern what is untruth.

Doubts can lead to ‘inquiry’, ‘questioning’, ‘deep learning’, ‘contemplation’, ‘comprehension’, ‘safety’, ‘problem solving’, ‘acceptance’, ‘ownership’ and many more benefits.

Doubt for me is the foundation of a #thecriticaldialogue which is necessary for enabling or facilitating change.

Imagine if someone tells you “I somehow doubt your intentions”  What would happen to you.  You would put in an extra effort to explain why you believe in the theory you are proposing.  In the process it may help you clarify your own hypothesis and learn what probably you would have missed.  It’s a great tool for enabling self-reflection.

It’s similar to someone in a team meeting stating “I have serious doubts whether this campaign or strategy will work”  It can trigger a very constructive debate and build greater conviction and ownership in the whole team.

But unfortunately, we have been from childhood conditioned not to doubt what our elders tell us, or the scriptures or community tells us.

I dread to imagine the world where no one would have questioned the existence of a higher power ‘god’ and the workings of the world as his doing.  Even today, I see some people have totally given up in life and stopped all progress, calling it their destiny or what a higher power has willed for them.

I’ve seen in organizations, some people are labeled as doubters and there is so much negativity against them.  People discount them and fail to get the benefits from a constructive dialogue with the ‘doubters’

I recommend that you must encourage or embrace ‘doubters’; for they are a catalyst to progress.

Do you doubt often?  Has it helped you progress in life and at work? 

Share some stories….

Are we becoming the victims of “too much”?

It is now a cliché’ to state that “too much of anything is bad”.  The problem we face today is that we are just not able to figure out “how much is that too much?”.  We are only able to realize how bad “too much” of something has become is after the damage is done.

There was a time when a vast majority of people around the world were victims of the “lack of” somethings in life.  Lack of food, shelter, education, clothing, money, transportation and so on.  All these were signs of different types of ‘poverty’ and we had people dying  or becoming impoverished because of the lack of these things in their life.

Today, the scale has shifted entirely towards having too much of everything and we becoming victims of it.  Let me list a few of which people are dying around the world;

  1. Too much of eating – obesity. Now considered one of the big contributors to lifestyle diseases and death
  2. Too much infrastructure development – deforestation. Felling of trees and depleting forests
  3. Too much construction around water bodies in the name of tourism – receding coastlines. Increased devastation and loss of life due to flooding
  4. Too much tourist activity around mountains and ice lands – leading to melting ice and glaciers and global warming
  5. Too much transportation – leading to increased use of fuel and air pollution
  6. Too many factories – leading to pollutants and poisoning of water and air and deaths caused as a consequence
  7. Too much travel around the world – leading to increased spread of viruses and diseases which are now becoming global problems and hard to contain (corona virus is a case in point).
  8. Too much uncontrolled and unmonitored growth of internet – leading to rapid spread of terrorist ideologies and acts leading to so much strife, war and casualties of the human kind.
  9. Too much social media and technological connectedness – leading to lack of interpersonal connection and the human touch. People feeling increasingly isolated and alone.  More suicides being reported because of lack of human to human connections and local community support.  People are today found to be at dinner tables and restaurants sitting together but not emotionally connected because of the interference of technology.
  10. Too much exposure to knowledge – increased hate and conflict because people are not able to differentiate between real and fake news.
  11. Too much liberalization and openness – leading to rapid migration of people to cities which are not ready to support this sudden explosion of population. This has also led to increased levels of local unemployment and communities losing their cultural identity.  Many nations had to close their doors to immigrants not because they don’t like them per se, but it was really becoming difficult to handle the problems arising out of the rise of migrant labor.  It is a fight to safeguard one’s own culture and economy from the threats of infiltration.
  12. Too much AI, MI and technological innovations – depleting “Emotional Intelligence”

You will notice that we are having the negative effects of “too much” in all of the above and did not realize the gravity of it till we became victims of it.  When we started to feel the heat from it.  When we saw people dying cause of it.

I am not suggesting that rapid growth and innovation is not necessary.  My point is that unless we “pause” and take a breather we will not be in a position to keep pace and eventually die in the process.

Have you been a victim of “too much”?  Can you add to the list of “too much” which has turned bad for you?  Can we help each other from becoming the victims of “too much”?

Of offers; counter-offers and the game of deception. Have you been a victim?

This post is an outcome of an incident from the recent past.

A friend of mine had put in his papers after years of work in a company which quite didn’t value his contributions.  For him it reached a tipping point after delivering results year on year, his promotion was always kept in abeyance and the increments were as he wished to call it “pittance”.  Call it office politics if you may.

He got a great offer from another company which was willing to pay twice as much for his expertise with a position which matched his expectations.

The MD of current employer then had a 1:1 with him and understood his position, claiming that he was ignorant of the injustice meted out to him and blah! blah! and made a counter-offer which not just matched the offer from the competitor but also gave him a position.  Assuring him that the mistakes of the past will be corrected and stating how much the organization values his contribution.

The poor guy fell for this game of great ‘deception’ and rejected the offer he got from the competitor.  I call this deception as after about 6 months he was fired from his job for non-performance and also alleging that he has passed on sensitive information about the organization to the competitor during his interactions with them.

Now he is jobless for the last 6 months and feeling depressed over this alleged deceit.  He had found out that they had only bought time to groom another understudy before letting this guy go.

I realized that this is not an isolated incident.  I’ve been myself through these games of deceit attempted on me in the past.  Fortunately, I didn’t succumb.  I stuck to my guns when such counter-offers came.  My point was if they felt that I was worth the offer being made after I put in my papers, why didn’t they do that before?  Once you have put in your papers, mentally you have switched off and have already carried a lot of baggage which is difficult to offload easily.  Plus the additional factor that many organizational leaders do not like the fact that you are going on your terms.  There point is “how dare he go on his terms?  It’s me who decides the terms of employment and severance as well”  It’s an ‘ego’ trip.

Such employers also trouble you post leaving your job by delaying paperwork, amounts due etc., in one pretext or the other.  There are plenty around in this world.

Have you been a victim of such ‘deceit’?  How would you respond to a counter-offer?

What would you do if you are suckered into staying?

Cycle of Learning

Learning or competence building is a cyclical process.  All of us go through it and almost all of the time.

Where does it begin?

Cycle of Learning

Let me explain using the example of ‘cycling’ as a competence.  When we are born or in early childhood, we wouldn’t be aware that there is something like a ‘cycling competency’.  This stage is called the unconscious incompetence, where there exists a competency and I am not aware of it either.  Once we grow enough to see the world around us and learn more about it, we find people cycling around.  That’s when we realize or become ‘conscious’ about the competency of cycling, however in this stage we are not having the competence yet to cycle ourselves.  This stage is our conscious incompetence stage.  Once we are through this stage and decide to acquire the necessary skill sets or know how we go about learning the process of cycling and start to do it ourselves.  You might have felt or observed, we are however very conscious of the way we are holding the handlebars , the time to up-shift or downshift a gear and very tight in the way we ride our bicycle.  This stage is what I call the conscious competence stage.  Here we have the necessary competence but are tentative.

When  we have done it over and over again for many days and months, it becomes part of our sub-conscious or natural.  We just pick up our bicycle and start pedaling away as if it is an extension of our body.  In this stage you are so conditioned to the act that you are not really conscious about the how, and might be thinking of several other things in your mind.  You still take the right turn, avoid obstacles without really concentrating much.  This stage is our unconscious competence.

Therefore its important to understand that when ever we take up a new skill or competence it goes through the whole cycle of learning up until it reaches the last stage.  Mind you it is cyclical as well.  Maybe after you see a circus artist perform some stunts on his bicycle, you will again reach a stage of conscious competence and then if you so decide go through the entire process once again.

I always therefore tell my students to not expect miracles at the end of a course.  It takes time and the cycle of learning to reach a state of unconscious competence.

So keep pedaling !

Does Your HR Team Feel Threatened By Freedom?

I take the risk of offending many of my friends in the HR community and if this attempt triggers a level of introspection I would have achieved the purpose of writing this blog.

I have found that in most organizations it’s their Human Resource specialist who come in the way of employees reaching their potential. They become counter-productive to the very idea for which they were put in place in the first instance. To the extent that most employees find their HR being hypocritical while propounding organizational values, vision, mission and the people development strategies.

This happens solely because the HR Manager is not comfortable with the idea of ‘Freedom’ for employees to choose their developmental path. He feels that he has the ‘monopoly’ on the HR developmental models and considers that the rest, i.e., the non-HR people do not have any idea of how people development takes place.

Many start-off with a grand plan of ’empowering employees’ and the moment they find that empowerment is taking away the control from them, they tend to bring in systems which come in the way of true empowerment. The switch to the traditional command and control models which gives them the authority to decide and dictate the career trajectory of the employee in his organization.

They get so much obsessed with the models and frameworks which they learnt in their management programs that they start to move away from reality and implement processes which prove to be counter-productive. In fact, I have in my experience seen that many HR Managers while complaining about the lack of people management skills of their technical managers get jittery when they see that the tech. manager is starting to take charge of all developmental needs of his team members. They sense a lack of control and start to intervene and object to reclaim their so called exclusive terrain.

By doing this, they are getting caught up in the game of survival. They want to protect their turf and remain relevant in the organization. They are confronted with the fear that if they give too much of freedom to the line managers, they will lose their relevance and end up doing only mundane job of administering HR policies of the company. This I feel is a great disservice to the very idea of their existence.

Let’s face it, HR in many technology companies to be particular are not held in high regard. They are considered to be the one’s who are existing to just to administration of policies and procedures and nothing significant which contributes directly to the organizations bottomline. In fact in some organizations because of the rigid theoretical approach of their HR Managers, they have started to look at getting in more diverse non-HR people into the departments. You can call it just challenging the hegemony of the HR specialist. In fact in Google, apparently only one-third of their people operation team is with an HR background and the rest are leaders from other functions or roles; like Strategic Management experts, Consultants, Data Analytics professionals etc. It’s not a surprise that Google has emerged almost 30 times at the top of the ‘Great Place To Work Institute’ ranking.

Human resource managers therefore must not be obsessed with the idea of command and control and let go of their monopoly. They must be willing to abandon practice and policies and keep innovating to remain relevant and up-to-speed with the rapidly change workplace requirements. Only then would the organization they work for, achieve true freedom in achieving their goals.

Ola! A Childlike Approach Towards High Quality Service

In one of my recent business trip where I didn’t have much to do in the evening after winding up my day. With no one for company and feeling bored in my hotel room I decided to spend my time in the restaurant and enjoy some beer and the in-house live band.

This place is one of my favorites as the service staff seems to somehow read my mind and provide me with excellent service. It’s not a one off, the service levels were consistent and of high standards.

I thought of spending some time with the Manager and pick his mind to understand what makes his team deliver such high standards all of the time. My idea was to understand if his insights can be used in other companies where I consult.

He asked me to just be around for a while and see for myself how his team and himself used the concept, what I term as OLA! in staying ahead and deliver quick and efficient service which delights their customers. The concept is similar to what infants and kids use to learn, grow and endear themselves to people i.,e Observe, Listen and Ask (OLA!)

He said, his team was highly alert and sensitive to the concept of OLA! The team members would be very observant of the happenings around the restaurant which was almost like a hawk-eyed approach. Ever alert to the movements of guests, facial expression, quizzical looks, waving hands et al. He said that the teams approach was nothing short of a team providing VIP security – always observant and alert. The moment they found that a guest was showing signs of movement, they slowly moved closer to the table, just to encourage the guest to speak up or ask. I saw in over 2 hours of observation that none of the guest had to call out to the waiters at any time – they reached them even before the guests uttered a word.

The other interesting thing about the team was the team was listening all the time to any noise (not snooping 😊) but alert to vocal signals from their guests. Even if it was a little gasp of Oh! or Ah!, they would make themselves available to find out if they could do anything for the guest.

And the last was that they ensured ‘asking’ the guests from time to time (without being intrusive) whether all was good and they were satisfied by the service and food being offered.

The OLA! approach helped them provide fast and efficient service to their guests most of whom like me were repeat visitors.

It’s almost the way a child learns in early life. The 3 skills exhibited by the child is Observe (the environment around), Listen (to the sounds around) and Ask (ask repeatedly and shamelessly until it finds the answer).

I thought that’s the way to go and be child-like in our service to clients no matter the industry. I can assure you it works in building great bonds and long-lasting relationships. Your clients are not buildings and machines after all.

 

Availability heuristics and its use in influencing your decisions

What comes to your mind by the mention of ‘Kashmir’? I’m sure you would have been immediately drawn to think about the abrogation of article 370, the turmoil in the state, stone pelting and the general state of strife. It does not immediately bring to our minds to the beautiful landscapes surrounded by snow-filled mountains, lakes, streams and the wonderful hospitality of the people of Kashmir.

Why does this happen? What influences our conclusions?

It is the continual and extensive media coverage which repeatedly plays out clips which project strife which gets well engrained in our minds and enables instant recall. What we call as top of the mind thoughts or availability heuristics.

Availability heuristics is the mental short-cut which helps us to draw conclusions based on what comes to our mind immediately. Repeated exposure to events, news and objects creates an enabling environment for us to draw conclusions based on availability.

When I say ‘post it’; what came to your mind surely will be the stickers which we often find in offices (if you are working) and for a teenager in college who is active on social media it would trigger a facebook, instagram, snapchat or a twitter post.

When we know that availability heuristics plays an important role in enabling people to draw conclusions, we can put them to use in influencing decisions as well. Making available images or communication to people in a million different ways can deeply influence their minds in drawing conclusions and base their decisions.

There are lessons we all can learn from the television media on ways in which we can influence public opinion and decisions. You can use these methods in teaching, parenting, and even in organizational development.

We need to examine what? are we making available to our audiences already and is it creating its own systemic bias towards the good or bad.

It surely can help us predict our errors and make more informed decisions by eliminating the prejudice which might have crept into our minds due to availability heuristics.