Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Taare Zameen Par

Suddenly all the Big Stars of the corporate world have been brought down to earth with one big name company falling after the other. The recent fall of Citibank brings down the bank which never sleeps. Only if they had followed the age old advice that a good night's sleep does a lot of good to your health. Hopefully now Citibank will start sleeping well to ensure it can regain its health.

I think time has come to go back to the basics and go back to age old advice that our ancestors have been giving us. Its a good time for the companies to stop chasing the latest management fad and start looking at creating organisations which work on realistic targets and do not chase unhealthy profitability and growth goals, do not grow beyond what they can manage, sincerely start believing that employees are their greatest assets and finally go back to respecting your customers, which was getting ignored since there were just too many customers out there, so what if a few were unhappy.

The challenge I see right now, is that laying off people has become the latest fad, and organisations are trying to outdo each other about how many they are planning to layoff. A few companies have started trimming salaries at the top, the biggest impact on cost reduction on salaries is there, which is the right way of going about changing the organisations. At least these organisations start looking at accountability for the top management and hence are showing 'walk the talk', unlike the CEOs of the large car companies, or AIG top executives, who continue to splurge at the cost of job loss to juniors.

My simple advice to companies is that this is the right time to get your house in order, now that there is excess capacity, utilise this time to build capability, upgrade your processes and be ready. I am confident that we have a boom cycle coming our way in a few months time.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Doing More with Less

Recently I was in a meeting with a potential client discussing some issues they were facing and how they thought they can resolve. One of the solutions they want implemented is a Bonus system to reward a particular behaviour, they also wanted to add an element of retention to it by deferring this award so that people look forward to staying that extra duration to get the bonus.

Many a times companies end up trying to achieve too many things from one program, thereby losing track of the actual intent too in the bargain.

One of the things to note is that the bonus does not on its own drive the behaviour, but the communication around it, the messaging of the managers, the show of intent by leadership, the support of the performance program and many others things have to contribute to making any of these programs successful. Hence just getting a bonus program in place does not help at all unless backed with many other things. Similarly retention can't be achieved by deferring payouts, one has to carefully think about various other aspects of the job that need to be addressed to achieve retention.

Hence my advice is to follow one simple principle. Each program has its specific purpose, fixed pay is to provide for doing a job at the target level, variable pay is to drive particular intended behaviours, Stocks are for creating sense of ownership in the company, deferred payouts are ways of retention, use them for these purposes and back them up with other initiatives to ensure that people find them interlinked with all the other objectives they have to meet.

Also don't try to do too many things with each program, let them focus on one aspect which will give the best returns.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Trim the Fat

It seems like time to trim the fat, I wish I could do this as easily for the fat on my tummy :-).

Times are bad and pay-cuts, job-losses are the order of the day. Everyday brings another bad news and people are completely lost about what to do about their careers. The fear of Am I going out next is very high.

My earlier post around CSR was a reaction to the Jet fiasco, but if one has to seriously look at how companies should respond to the situation that we are faced with today, we would probably come up with a good CSR model.

There are two ways of responding to a difficult situation, one is the easy one and the other is the hard but the right one. The easiest thing that most companies can do in a situation like this is go for mass lay-offs, which is how most companies respond. The hard way and the right way is to look at expense optimisation. This is not easy and not quick, but definitely will end up helping a whole lot of people in the country and also the whole economy, in a significant way.

Over the last few years, the biggest increase in cost has happened on the salary front, and especially top management salaries. The gap between the salary of a fresh recruit and the salary of the CEO has become so wide that at times it does not seem to make sense. Now is the time for most companies to have a re-look, first at their Top-Mgmt compensation and then at the other levels of the company, and rationalise salaries to a meaning ful level. This will help us as a country to become cost competitive once again and make India the prefered destination for goods and services. Also a good time to have a serious look at all expense heads and see opportunities to save before the final call on lay-offs is taken. There is a chance that we can save a lot of people's jobs and come out stronger as a country. The last one with a big hope that the politicians will let this country grow stronger, which does not seem like their intent given the religion, caste, regionalism and other issues they are raking to win votes.

My simple thought in difficult times is to think about solutions which will help a lot many more people than a handful of investors in the short term.

Wishing everyone a Happy Diwali!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Corporate Social Responsibility

I am so scared of reading the newspaper these days. Everyday brings in a bigger bad news than the previous day and it just does not seem to be stopping.

Todays news about Jet Airways asking hundreds of people to leave without giving prior notice, information or explanation just made things worse.

I think job cuts are inevitable, given the market situation there will probably be lots of them, but do we have to do the job cuts the way they are being done. Suddenly one finds all the HR people, who used to proclaim their 'love for people' being the sole reason for joining HR, have forgotten the basic courtesy of giving bad news softly.

The news says Jet just couriered discharge letters to its employees a day prior to asking them to leave and no cabs came to pick people who were ready to come to office the next day, now given the state of our media, there could be lots of exaggeration here, but lets assume most part of this is true.

As an HR professional, I find this completely unacceptable on part of the HR function of the company to have done something as nasty and cowardly as what has been done here. In the past too I have seen other companies doing similar things. The worst part about this is the statements made by the Chairman of the company saying 'employees are our family'. If this is how he treats family, then God save his friends and foes.

My simple thought for HR folks, since you all love people, learn the basic courtesy of giving bad news softly. Don't just try to comply to the minimal legal requirements and understand the plight of people who will find themselves without jobs one sudden day, counsel them, talk to them, show empathy, maybe create opportunities for people to find alternate jobs or anything else that you would expect anyone else throwing you out to do for you, remember if all others will lose jobs, someday the HR guy also has to.....

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Self Appraisal

An interesting point of view about how to assess the satisfaction of your employer with your performance.

Enjoy !


A little boy went into a drug store, reached for a soda carton and pulled it over to the telephone. He climbed onto the carton so that he could reach the buttons on the phone and proceeded to punch in seven digits (phone numbers).

The store-owner observed and listened to the conversation:

Boy: 'Lady, Can you give me the job of cutting your lawn?

Woman: (at the other end of the phone line): 'I already have someone to cut my lawn.'

Boy: 'Lady, I will cut your lawn for half the price of the person who cuts your lawn now.'

Woman: I'm very satisfied with the person who is presently cutting my lawn.

Boy: (with more perseverance): 'Lady, I'll even sweep your curb and your sidewalk, so on Sunday you will have the prettiest lawn in all of Palm beach , Florida.'

Woman: No, thank you.

With a smile on his face, the little boy replaced the receiver. The store-owner, who was listening to all

this, walked over to the boy.

Store Owner: 'Son... I like your attitude; I like that positive spirit and would like to offer you a job.'

Boy: 'No thanks,

Store Owner: But you were really pleading for one.

Boy: No Sir, I was just checking my performance at the job I already have. I am the one who is working for that lady, I was talking to!'

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hire the best not the best educated

Education is an important part of the persona of a person. A person educated at the IITs and IIMs and the likes always command immediate respect. My brother who is from IIM Indore was narrating how people would treat them as near celebrities when they would visit the city wearing their IIM t-shirts. Youngsters would stop them and seek their advice on how to prepare for CAT and which was a better campus that they should target for their education.

The tag of your campus carries onto the organisational work environment and all the companies keep chasing people from the best institutes. Have a look at most of the job ads anywhere and most of them specify preference for the best institutes. I even remember sitting in a conversation when a promotion was being discussed and there were two candidates one a great performer with great potential but from a so-called tier 2 institute and another one from a tier 1 institute but not as a great a performer or potential and most people seemed to favour the person from tier 1 insti.

I had a really difficult time arguing with the client team that the education is supposed to convert to performance on the floor which should entitle people to promotions and not the tag of the education alone, it definitely was quite a difficult conversation. One of the very strong criteria they had for promotion was the qualification a person carried.

In my interactions with a lot of clients I see the same bias and sometimes wonder if companies are falling in a trap and ending up not picking up the best people for the best job.

In my mind, the campus a person is from gives an indication of certain traits or qualities, but does not necessarily convert to finding the best fit person for a job. I would much rather that the companies focus more on the exposure a person has had and hence the competencies that a person may have developed be given higher importance over the education. If companies try and do that, they will increase the talent pool that they are targeting and be able to also find the best people for the vacancies that they have.

Someday I will want to do some reseach to prove that the campus you are from actually provides only 1.329% advantage over the others and I am fairly confident that the results will come exactly the same as mentioned here.

My simple thought hence is, drop the line looking for people from IIT, IIM, XLRI etc only from your ads and increase your pipeline of people, who may not be from these campuses but are the right fit. Take my word, you are spending far bigger time and money for the 1.329% advantage that you have right now.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Reduce salary fight inflation

I found a suggestion by Dr Manmohan Singh, that reducing salaries by corporates will help fight inflation and help long term growth, very amusing. He just reduced our taxes to give more money in our hands and took credit for it, now he wants to take the money back by some other means. Did this tax reduction cause inflation in the first place?

His government just approved the highest salary increase for all government employees, should he not roll that back, if not reduce salaries, to help fight inflation by the same logic?

But then whats the point of asking these questions, if politicians were driven by simple logic it wouldn't be called politics.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Just don't do it....

So many times I meet people who want to do things just because everyone else is doing it, at times without even thinking about the impact on their organisation. Recently I got asked a question saying 'I hear that stock options keep coming in favour or going out of favour with employers, so do you think I should do this for my organisation at this point in time'.

What most of us fail to understand is that no HR program works in isolation. If one is putting in a suggestion scheme in place then just putting the scheme in place and having financial rewards for the best suggestions does not lead to the success of the program. The intent of involving everyone in the success of the organisation also needs to be backed with a lot of communication about what the organisation is doing or trying to do and connect them with the reality of the business so that the suggestions that come are not ONLY towards improving the peripheral issues, like switching off lights and putting signages, but they also help resolve serious business issues faced by the organisation.

A stock program is an ownership program hence along with giving stock one also needs to create an environment of ownership through various behaviours that the owners, managers and peers need to display to get the maximum benefit from the program.

Hence 'Just don't do it...' because its the current fad right now, but seriously evaluate what you want to achieve and also what all you will need to do to make any of the HR programs successful.


Monday, April 07, 2008

Dead Horse Theory

Someone forwarded an interesting mail which did sound a good fit with many corporate policies. So read and have fun.

'When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount and get a different horse.'

However, in government, education and corporates India, more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:

1. Buying a stronger whip.

2. Changing riders.

3. Appointing a committee to study the horse.

4. Arranging to visit to other countries to see how other cultures ride dead horses.

5. Lowering the standards so that the dead horse can be included.

6. Reclassifying the dead horse as 'living impaired'.

7. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

8. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.

9. Providing additional funding and / or training to increase dead horse's performance.

10. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse's performance.

11. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overheads and

therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses.

12. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses. And, of course,

13. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Chair - Man

Recently while working with a client organisation, I noticed something peculiar, peculiar from my perspective but common across many organisations. I noticed that the chairs in the conference rooms were all the same size except one which was at the head of the table, which was much larger. The interesting part was that the chair was left unoccupied for most of the meetings I conducted with the client, except when the owners of the company were in the meeting. This chair was always left vacant, despite the fact that for a few meetings they had to bring in more chairs from outside.

This reminded me of my first job, where once my chair was broken and I pulled in a chair from one of the managers who was on leave. I was pulled up for the action and reminded that a management trainee could not sit on a manager chair. The big difference being the manager chair reclined and the others did not. Well I argued about the fact that there were no other chairs and there was urgent work to be done and how the hell did it matter, the chair was not being used in any case. But then logic did not work, if logic always worked in organisations, Scott Adams wouldn't have made so much money with Dilbert.

This also reminded me of one manager, who got promoted and was entitled to a bigger chair, but did not get as they were not in stock, he created a huge issue out of it. I assume it was a big thing, he had worked very hard for nearly 18 years with a single minded focus of getting a chair which would recline and now when the time was ripe he was deprived of the most important priviledge he had worked towards which would affect his productivity in a significant manner.

I have always wondered about these visible signs of authority and growth and have never managed to come to terms with those. Having worked in a company for 10 years where the business card did not carry any titles, could never understand the need to have titles like Additional Deputy Assistant Manager. Also the company for a long time tried to provide classless benefits, so nothing changed visibly for most people neither the size of the desk, the car, the cellphone etc etc with a change of job and my guess is we did well.

I sometimes wonder how much time the company would have spent trying to create these minor visible differences in hierarchy which take up so much productive time of the organisation in executing the minor twists.

My personal liking is to having simple common uncomplicated rules and processes, driven more by need than by hierarchy. I would much rather not spend 2 meetings worth of time of very senior people in an organisation about what to name a new grade to be inserted. Which one do you think is better Additional Manager, Deputy Assistant Manager or Additional Assistant Manager.