QAspire Blog: Looking Back at 2013

Chrysanthemum

Looking back at 2013 fills me with gratitude. It was a remarkable year – both personally and for this blog.

I did a lot of writing here and elsewhere, participated in some enlightening conversations with folks in-person and virtually, signed a new book deal (details soon), contributed photograph clicked by me on a book cover and did speaking at various respected forums. Here are some (but not all) highlights:

This are just a few glimpses from a lot that happened on personal and professional fronts.

This blog has grown beyond what I had imagined and this was not possible without YOU – the readers of this blog. Every feedback I get about my writing here is so gratifying. Thank you for your continued support.

And now, lets go over the important lessons I shared – one for each month. I hope you will enjoy them and revisit:

Jan 2013 – Leading Others: How NOT to be in Control

Feb 2013 – Do KRA’s and Rewards Help in Quality?

Mar 2013 – Leadership: 6 Pointers on Having Face Time with People

Apr 2013 – Understanding Quality: Duty Towards Self

May 2013 – Clearing the Fog in Communication

Jun 2013 – How To Get Better? Focus on ‘Touch Time’

Jul 2013 – How to Build a Great Team and Culture? 60 Pointers

Aug 2013 – Coaching Culture: The Art and Science of Success

Sep 2013 – 6 Lessons On Creating a Lasting Influence

Oct 2013 – Consulting, Content and Context: A Fable

Nov 2013 – Managing Aggression in a Team – A Short Tale

Dec 2013 – In 100 Words: Humility, Life and Leadership

With that, I wish you a remarkable 2014.

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Management Improvement Carnival – 2013 Edition

I have been hosting the annual management improvement carnival (organized by John Hunter) for last 3 years and I am glad to be continuing that streak.

This year, I am reviewing three blogs and featuring their best 3 posts that I enjoyed reading. This is also my opportunity to thank them for all the lessons they share through their blogs.

Jesse Lyn Stoner’s Blog

Jesse Lyn Stoner is truly a thought leader who has worked closely with leaders for over 25 years helping them create collaborative, engaged organizations that make a powerful and positive impact on the world. She is also the co-author, with Ken Blanchard, of an international bestseller “Full Steam Ahead: Unleash the Power of Vision”. In 2013, one of the highlights of her work was “Value of Vision” series. Over to the posts from Jesse that I enjoyed reading:

Why Good Teams Make Bad Decisions

Poor decisions occur when one or even a few team members have important information but aren’t heard because their style of communication is ineffective, because others are not listening, or because there is no means to communicate their concerns.

The 12 Skills of Brilliant Team Members

A team can have both brilliant players and great teamwork… if the team is not built around an individual, if team-oriented behaviors are expected, and if the team is held accountable and recognized for its results.

The Six Benchmarks of High Performance Teams

High performance teams sustain results over time. They set high standards for performance that are clearly defined, measurable, and are consistently met by individual team members and the team.

James Lawther’s SquawkPoint Blog

This year, I discovered James Lawther’s blog and I am glad I did! James is an experienced operations manager who is passionate about improving quality, reduce cost and increase efficiency of operations. What I really like about this blog is the simplicity with which lessons are delivered using stories, lists and short posts. Here is a preview of James’ writing:

The Simple Reason People Won’t do as You Ask

If you are trying to change behaviour, it is wise to appeal to people’s self interest.

Is Your Boss Really That Stupid?

So if you want to be good, not just look it: Stop making people look bad if the results aren’t where you want them to be. Start to focus on what you can do to improve the system, not how you can improve the measures.

How to Sink a Ship

So what really sank the Titanic? What was the underlying reason?

Perhaps it was a management focus on targets, deadlines, costs and profits instead of delivering customers safely and comfortably from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Have we really changed in the past 100 years?

Jamie Flinchbaugh

Jamie Flinchbaugh writes on lean, transformational leadership and entrepreneurial excellence. His blog offers very useful perspectives and insights on leading an effective enterprise. Here are 3 posts and snippets that I enjoyed reading so far, and you will too:

Executives can’t do it alone, and must be masters of developing people

Problem solving is an opportunity to solve a problem, and develop people. Strategy development is an opportunity to set direction, and develop people. Technical reviews are a chance to manage both innovation and risk, and…develop people.

The difference between tension and stress

Stress is knowing that you’re not where you’re supposed to be, and not knowing what to do about it. Tension is understanding the gap with a clear view of current reality, a vision of the ideal state, and action to close the gap.

Integrity…don’t leave home without it

Integrity is first, it is paramount. Integrity is first to yourself, and then to others. Integrity is saying what you mean and just as importantly, acting with honest intent. Any positive trait that be levied towards someone is suspect unless backed by integrity. Integrity is beyond honesty and beyond talking straight. It requires insight and reflection. To be honest with yourself means reflection and corrective action on the gap between your intent, and your results.

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Related Posts:

  1. People Focus – 2010 Management Improvement Carnival
  2. Annual Management Improvement Carnival: Edition 1 (2011)
  3. Annual Management Improvement Carnival: Edition 2 (2011)
  4. Management Improvement Carnival: 2012 Edition

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Managing Aggression in a Team – A Short Tale

Cute Pug, Angry Expression!

The cricket coach had some wise words for his team. This team was reeling under pressure to perform and was marred by penalties imposed on key players due to their overly aggressive behavior on the field. Coach knew that some course correction was required.

“Aggression” he said, “is a double edged sword. If used correctly, aggression can lead to improved performance. It elevates the intensity of your game”.

The coach continued, “I like to call this ‘good aggression’ because it is instrumental in generating new energy within the team. As a team, we must be aggressive but only assertively. The purpose of our aggression is to help ‘ourselves’ not to harm others.”

The team was slowly realizing their folly.

“What I call as ‘bad aggression’ makes us hostile, unfriendly and negative because we try to draw our energy from negating and obstructing others. It may improve our performance in a short term but is not healthy in a longer run. The energy within us manifests itself in many ways and aggression is just one of the ways our energy comes out. We only need to positively direct this energy.” the coach said.

He then asked the team to think about how some of the greatest players in the history of cricket handled their own aggression. After a few quiet moments, the team members realized that best players always kept their aggression in their bellies, not in their heads. They were able to channelize this aggressive energy into a constructive one.

When the team returned to nets for practice sessions, they knew they had a choice to exercise. They chose to be constructively aggressive. No snide remarks on the field, no dissent, no fierce expressions and no more clenching of fists; just a consistent focus on performance of the self and the team.

The coach silently observed them from a distance and smiled because he knew the players had learned something that will not only improve their conduct in sport but also in their lives!

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P.S.: I participated in a corporate cricket tournament recently and this post is partly inspired by my lessons from the tournament and conversations around each game.

Consulting, Content and Context: A Fable

contentcontext

It was the first day of his job as a consultant with this large consulting house. The consultant entered the office and walked across the corridor confidently, armed with his knowledge about methodologies, tools and best practices.

In next few weeks of his induction, the challenge was to apply his knowledge on several simulated situations that consultants usually face during their real assignments. He provided solutions that were in tune with some or the other best practice but impractical to implement in a given situation.

The boss was observing this from a distance since a few weeks and his disappointment grew with each passing day.

It is said that when only thing you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Consultant was trying to nail the problems with the only hammer he had – the best practices .

Knowing that things were not heading in a right direction, boss called the consultant for a counseling session over a cup of coffee.

It was clear that the consultant was loaded with content but did not do enough to understand the context of the problem – the culture, people, business model, root causes of problems and specific situations.

The boss explained, “Unless you put your lessons in a frame of reference, those lessons mean a little. You can endlessly talk about your knowledge, but unless mapped to a context, it has no meaning.”

The consultant was curious to know more about the context.

The boss continued, “Context is a powerful thing. It is a perspective you form based on a situation. A freedom fighter of one country may be considered as a terrorist by the other. One man and two different ways to look at him based on the context he is into.”

He explained further, “Your success as a consultant (and professional) is less about knowledge of best practices and more about your ability to map them to a specific business context. Context provides meaning to content. If you think of your knowledge content as water, context is the glass that holds it, gives it a shape; an identity. Our knowledge is static and defined whereas situations are dynamic and uncertain.”

As the wisdom unfolded, consultant felt as if he was beginning a new chapter in his consulting career. He realized that context always trumps content.

The lessons he learned from this short counseling session would stay with him throughout his career!

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BONUS: I recently had an interesting Twitter conversation on Quality, Process and Culture in a Complex Business World with Tom Peters, Mark Graban, John Kordyback, Sunil Malhotra, Jatin Jhala and others. Read the storified version of the conversation here.

Learning in a Connected Age: Leveraging Social Media

Learning in a Connected Age

Before language evolved, we used symbols and expressions. They evolved to form words and hence sentences. Language allowed us to create stories and human beings learned through stories shared in a social context. Learning was social in nature.

Then, literature evolved and allowed many people to learn from the same sources. In this world, the more knowledge you possessed, the more powerful you were. Learning was imparted by one to many and progression of our knowledge was linear – one level after the other.

Then a revolution happened and all literature went online – Wikipedia democratized information and knowledge is now available in form of eBooks, Blogs, Online Communities, Social Media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, Online Video resources and now MOOCS (Massively Open Online Courses).

We moved from industrial age to knowledge economy and now into a creative one. In this economy, just having (and hoarding) knowledge is not powerful, what you do with that knowledge is!

Internet is a great equalizer – we all have access to a network that is open and connected. Open means we have access to all fundamental knowledge, resources, technology, online courses etc. Connected means we are able to form groups and communities, exchange knowledge, compile and synthesize ideas, source solutions of our problems through a community, provide solutions to a community, take the ideas forward and collaborate with global community.

In an open and connected world, learning is imparted by many to many. Progression of knowledge is non-linear, rapid and broad.

Social and informal learning can (and should) complement the classroom learning. That is because a classroom imparts knowledge that is explicit. Social and informal learning impacts knowledge that is implicit/tacit – something that no syllabus can cover or teach.

“When data is ubiquitously accessible, facts are increasingly less important than the ability to place these facts in a context and deliver them with an emotional impact” – Dan Pink, The Whole New Mind

Why do we take all the pain to learn on our own when we are paying so much to the university?

Because we live in a fast paced world which is constantly changing. Because we compete globally. Because learning is never static. Because in this world, continuous and self-directed learning is the only sustainable competitive advantage we all have.

You have an opportunity to accelerate your learning process, take more chances, connect meaningfully, take your career to the next level and make a greater difference. Learning starts with an intention and the focus is on YOU.

We have come a full cycle and learning is social again.

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Over to you! How has social media platforms contributed to your learning? What techniques or tools do you employ to leverage social media as a learning platform – for yourself or for your organization?

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Note: This post is based on a talk I recently delivered at Nirma University, Institute of Law on their annual event “Confluence 2013”. My talk was well received and students asked a lot of questions during the panel discussion on how they can leverage social media for learning.

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Sports, Life and Leadership: A Game and a Few Lessons

Table Tennis

When it comes to playing table tennis (ping pong), I like hitting hard smacks. But in this particular game, the opponents were playing defensively. The first few times I tried smacking the ball, I lost the points.

Just then, my doubles partner whispered something in my ears, “Reciprocate your game. Don’t just play your style, but adapt to how they are playing.”  When I did adapt, my game stabilized and that added some pressure on the opponents. I learned that adaptability and contextual alignment is so important – be it family, work or a game of ping pong!

I acted on my partners advice and focused on just one simple thing: pass the ball consistently to the other side of net. No heroic shots when simple shots can do. The opponents lost a few points just trying hard to disrupt my rhythm. I realized that doing simple things consistently over long haul and improvising every single time  can sometimes be more powerful than doing something drastic or heroic in a spurt.

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” – John Wooden

 

In a yet another singles game, my opponent was anxious. A technically sound player, he took his game too seriously. He practiced through the day and would clinch his fists to curse himself every time he played a wrong shot. The driving force behind his hard practice was an imaginary fear of failure; that kept him from really enjoying his game. By the time game started, he was already exhausted! When your practice matures, it should help you gain more composure, not more anxiety!

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Don’t miss first part of this post (written in 2010) – A Few Parallels Between Sports, Life and Leadership

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Photo Courtesy: Theunis Viljoen’s Flickr Photostream

6 Lessons On Creating a Lasting Influence

Influence

Mahatma Gandhi, as we know, was a simple man who had no position, no wealth, no power and no authority. Yet, he altered the course of history by leading India to Independence through power of people. How could a man with no formal authority take on an empire and influence the hearts and minds of so many people across the country?

Gandhi’s impact is a testimony to the fact that you don’t need positional power to influence others. No matter who you are or where you are in the order, you can make a difference.

Every time I think of influence, I think of Gandhi. He worked with others and through others to achieve his objectives. In the process, he never compromised on his own principles.

In an organizational context, ability to influence is at the heart of a leader’s success in driving changes, building great teams, delivering results and implementing the strategic vision. At an individual level, your ability to influence others is at the core of building relationships, creating a network and achieving your goals.

How does one generate influence? What are the building blocks to be considered? Here is what I have learned about generating influence:

  1. Having substance is a pre-requisite for generating influence. An empty vessel only makes more noise. Having real accomplishments, experience, subject matter expertise, passion for the subject and credibility are the foundations on which influence can happen.
  2. Trust, as in leadership, is the currency of influence. People get influenced and change only when they trust you. People trust you when you deliver what you promise, speak from your heart and be integral and ethical.
  3. Thought leadership accelerates trust and hence influence. When you challenge conventional beliefs, advance the ideas and provide new points of view, people get engaged and start trusting. Gandhi’s idea of non-violence serves as a great example of thought leadership.
  4. Influence spreads on pollens of generous actions. The process of influencing others start with a genuine intention to share and contribute first. It is not about what you want to say, but what helps others.
  5. Only intention is not enough, commitment is the key. Influence is rarely generated overnight. It requires commitment, patience and being persistent over a long time.
  6. Real influence provokes change. Influence is only valuable when it provokes change in how people operate and think; when it inspires them to take required action. It is a myth that just having an audience and followers means influence.

Join in the conversation: Who are you influenced by? What are specific qualities that you are influenced by? Share your lessons!

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In case you have missed:

In 100 Words: The Pursuit of Happiness

My one year old son seems to be in a perennial state of happiness. His playful presence and vibrant energy makes everyone around him happy. He knows how to make the most of simplest of things. “What’s his secret?” I was thinking to myself when heard I this wonderful story from a friend.

A man once asked a Buddhist monk, “I want happiness.” The monk smiled softly and said, “First remove ‘I’ – that is your ego. Then remove ‘want’ – that is your unending desire. Now all you are left with (and were born with) is ‘happiness’.

I got his secret!

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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How to Prepare Well: 3 Lessons

A man giving finishing touch to a stone, Vijaynagar, Gujarat.

A few years back, I was coordinating the interview process of my team members with the client before they start working on the client projects. My team members were not fully confident because they had never faced a client interview before. To build their confidence, we planned three mock interview sessions where I would play the role of a client. We did these interviews in-person and over-the-call. With each call, the confidence increased and communication was tuned for clarity. In the real interview, they did well and client was happy with how candidates represented their skills.

Candidates did well because they were prepared. They practiced, rehearsed and improved before the final show.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

Preparation is so important yet so ignored in corporate environment where we see people representing things without preparing. They do meetings, discussions, calls and even address large groups of people without preparing. They think they would “go with the flow” and “take things as they come.” But they don’t realize that being unprepared, in lean terms, is a huge cost and sometimes, it costs a reputation!

The work “prepare” comes from Latin praeparare which means ‘to make ready beforehand’. Preparation (or lack of it) has been a major determinant in my successes and failures so far. Preparation sharpens your saw, equips you to deliver better and with greater confidence.

Based on my experiences so far, here are some of my lessons on how to prepare well:

  1. Purpose drives preparation. It helps to get clear about “why” you are doing what you are doing. If the purpose and end result is not clearly visible, your preparation may lack enthusiasm and direction. If you are a leader, your #1 job is to first clarify purpose before you start helping your team with preparation.
  2. It is not just about content, but also about context. The art of preparation is not just about the content of your outcome but also the context in which the outcome is delivered. E.g. you have mastered your pitch (content) for that client presentation but you also need to know client’s business, their expectations, key stakeholders and the bigger picture. Context is a part of your preparation.
  3. Preparation should allow you to be more flexible, not rigid. I have seen people who prepare well on content but if things don’t go as planned, they just freeze because they failed to consider the alternatives, variables and how they would respond to it. It is very much a part of your preparation. No matter how well you prepare, uncertainty is almost inevitable and hence preparation should help you remain agile and adaptable to changing situations.

Over to you: If there is one lesson you have to share about the art of preparing well, what would that be?

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Also check out my newest post on Pearson TalentLens Blog: 10 Most Important Traits of a Leader Who Thinks Critically

Coaching Culture: The Art and Science of Success #IndiaHRChat

It was a time to participate in #IndiaHRChat again and the topic this time was “Coaching: The Art and Science of Success”. The topic is very dear to me and it was a great learning experience reading tweets from various people in HR Fraternity. Tweet-Insights from the special guest Mr. Gurprriet Singh (@JoyandLife), Managing Consultant and Head of YSC India helped in understanding the nuances of coaching based on his experiences.

It was fun sharing my insights and participating in this conversation. You can read all tweets in this storified version of the chat. Here are the bite sized ideas on personal branding that I shared or amplified.

Why a Culture of Coaching?

A culture of coaching fosters trust, accelerates learning and builds collaboration.

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Coaching helps people navigate change and be adaptable. Adaptable teams help in organizational adaptability.

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Better coaching = Better team/business results = Satisfied Customers = Better Bottom lines.

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Coaching takes the baton where training leaves it! Coaching complements training and induces behavioral change.

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Coaching increases performance, productivity and job satisfaction at all levels.

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"I absolutely believe that people, unless coached, never reach their maximum capabilities." Bob Nardelli, former CEO, HomeDepot

Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring

Coaching addresses specific purpose or task and is time bound. Mentoring focuses on the individual and long term.

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Coaching is the subset of mentoring and focuses on specific goal or task at hand.

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Mentoring is broad & relational while coaching often tends to be about functional improvements. (RT @sundertrg)

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Mentoring is led from the front, coaching supported from behind. Mentor sets agenda, coach does not. (RT @SeapointCenter)

When Should Coaching NOT be Used?

When challenges are related to attitude and thinking of the person, coaching will not help.

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Never ask managers to coach people unless managers have demonstrated capabilities to be a good coach. (RT @ThinKritical )

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Try coaching in a situation of fire/escalation where response time is critical and you may fail. Coaching needs time.

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Never ask managers to coach people unless managers have demonstrated capabilities to be a good coach. (RT @ThinKritical)

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Coaching is ineffective when used as a last resort to retain an employee. (RT @ThinKritical)

Characteristics of a Good Coach

A coach has to be humane. Interested in people. Committed to growing others and elevate their game.

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You can never coach others when you are insecure about yourself. Personal proficiency is a pre-requisite.

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To ENLIST people, a coach has to LISTEN, probably why both words are formed using same letters!

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When people are being coached, feedback is their compass. Trust is the currency. A good coach knows that!

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A good coach needs content skills and context skills – ability to map the knowledge and actions w.r.t. specific context.

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Good coach is: Positive. Enthusiastic. Respectful. Empowering. Supportive. Patient. Result Oriented. Knowledgeable.

The Ideal Coaching Candidate

An ideal coaching candidate is open-minded and willing to learn.

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When it comes to a coaching candidate, as @tom_peters says, “ATTITUDE > ABILITY”

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The coach will appear when the student is ready ! start getting ready. (RT @JonasPrasanna)

Challenges in Establishing a Culture of Coaching

Not having clear objective of coaching exercise OR not aligning the coaching goals with business objectives.

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An organizational culture that thwarts new ideas will seldom succeed in building a coaching culture.

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Coaching being given by people who don’t "get" the essence of coaching.

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Looking for short-term ROI from coaching exercise :)

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BONUS: Read the interview I did with Marshall Goldsmith and Chip R. Bell on The Art of Effective Mentoring to complement these lessons.

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Also Read: Bite Sized Insights on Personal Branding #IndiaHRChat

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How to Build a Great Team and Culture? 60 Pointers

I recently delivered a talk at a local entrepreneurship forum on the topic “How to Build a Great Team and Culture”.

It won’t be unfair to say that establishing a great culture and team is highest on priority of a business leader. And why not? A great culture enables success, builds team fabric and attracts talent too. We have all seen many talented teams failing simply because of a poor culture and human dynamics. Here is the running list of 60 odd lessons I shared during my talk:

A Great Team is all about “People”

  • Good team work is mathematics – it adds leverage, divides work and multiplies success.
  • People are at the heart of a great team. Where there are human beings, there will be dynamics of how they operate. Human dynamics remain the same –be it team, family or community.
  • Treat them as humans. Living, breathing, emotional and intelligent people are not “resources”. They are not a part of machinery. They are humans.
  • Human beings have self-esteem.
  • They are driven by ambition.
  • They want to grow.
  • They want independence.
  • If ambition is the driver, inspiration is the fuel. Feedback is the compass that enables them to validate direction. Trust is the currency.

Why Team?

  • A team of discrete individuals join hands because they want to achieve something that is beyond their own selves. Having a compelling purpose is the first pre-requisite of building a great team.
  • In today’s world, people cannot be simply “roped into” the team. They have to “opt-in” – which means that a leader’s first job and biggest value addition is to articulate the clear vision and principles for how the team will reach it. To clarify the purpose in so many words (and through actions). People need to know how their work fits into a larger picture.
  • Clarifying the purpose and setting the vision is not a one-time communication. It has to be re-iterated in every meeting and every interaction. Vision and values are not “feel good things” written on the wall plaque – they have to be lived in every decision that an organization takes. Formal and informal forums like water-cooler conversations, one-on-ones, all hands meetings, and internal newsletters are a great way to reinforce the message.
  • If you want to ENLIST people onto your vision, you have to LISTEN – probably a reason why both the words are made up of same letters.
  • Communication is the most important tool in a leader’s toolkit. Communication that sets expectations right!
  • “If people are subordinates, what are they subordinating to?” In my view, people never subordinate other people. They are subordinates to a cause. In that sense, even a leader is a subordinate to a cause.
  • Set expectations on behaviors you value. As Michael le Boeuf says, “You get more of the behavior you reward. You don’t get what you hope for, ask for, wish for or beg for. You get what you reward."

Getting Right People

  • A team is as good as the people in it. Get people on your team who are either rock stars with proven capabilities or the ones who possess the attitude of being rock stars.
  • Never hire on capabilities alone. Attitude is as important as capabilities. In fact, with the right attitude, a team member can build capabilities. Skills alone, without right attitude doesn’t move a needle.
  • As Tom Peters says, “Attitude > Ability”
  • Embrace diversity. Diversity is the key to an innovative team. If everyone belongs to a similar background or have similar thought processes, how will the team think different? How will they look at same things with a new set of lens? How will they challenge the status-quo? Celebrate these outliers, for they are the ones who will help you grow!
  • Before hiring a team members, look for actual working skills. Learning history. Communication. Adaptability and most importantly, integrity.
  • After all this, ensure that the person is fun to work with, social and emotionally intelligent.
  • Get people on team with complementary skills. A good team is the one where people complement each other. It is like a puzzle where the whole picture is not complete without any one of its parts. Each piece of puzzle fills the other!
  • Even after having all traffic rules, accidents still happen. It will happen when you are building team. The key is to know when to let someone go.

Managing Smart

  • People don’t need micromanagement. They don’t need carrot and stick. They need an ecosystem where they can exercise their discretionary effort and deliver their 102% – 100% of what is expected and 2% value addition.
  • How to create such an ecosystem? Dan Pink’s new theory of motivation comes in handy. People need autonomy (control over their work). They want to pursue mastery (work that helps them become better). They need a strong purpose (working on what matters).
  • Trust is the currency for eliciting excellence. Because it is simple: people only do their best work when they are trusted. With traditional “command-and-control”, people will comply at the best. With trust and empowerment, they will exceed the expectations.
  • In a team, people share the same vision, but not accountability. Establish clear roles, responsibilities and accountabilities early on.
  • If people are involved in planning, they co-own the plan (buy-in). Involve people when planning for tasks that impacts their work.
  • Rituals are powerful. Communication cannot be left to a chance. Establishing rituals (daily stand-ups, weekly meetings, one-on-ones, retrospective meetings) are a powerful way to ensure that team stays on track.
  • Have systems in place. It is said that “Processes without results are a waste. Results without processes are not sustainable.”
  • Share feedback early and often. Feedback validates the direction and helps in course correction.
  • Manage meetings well. Keep them short and focused on actions.
  • Foster collaboration. Don’t rely on emails when you can walk up and talk to a team member.
  • Play to their strengths and let them shine. A lot of team leadership is knowing who can do what and delegating accordingly.
  • Let them take lead. People fondly remember what they started or owned.

Grace Under Fire

  • In Storming phase of a team’s lifecycle, conflicts are inevitable. It is not about conflicts but how you manage them.
  • The harder the conflict, the glorious the triumph – because every conflict tests (and strengthens) the team fabric. It refreshes the dynamics.
  • Treat people well when they make mistakes – when they least expect it.
  • When you have to be firm, be firm – but not at the cost of politeness. Being firm and polite is an art! Dealing with others without grace kills autonomy.
  • Manage the grapevine. Avoid small talk within the team. Encourage people to address issues directly.
  • In all situations bad and good, always be transparent about what is really going on and how will it impact the team.
  • Monitor progress, not people.
  • Question process, not individuals.
  • When you encounter an ego situation, quiz your goals. Am I (are you) focusing on ‘who’ is right, or doing ‘what’ is right?
  • Be graceful, always!

Inspiration and Gratitude

  • Someone rightly said, “We always get more from people by building a ‘fire within them’ than we do by building ‘fire under them.’
  • Be generous about recognizing contributions. Be authentic when appreciating. Say more than just “good job” and tell them what exactly do you appreciate.
  • Thank often.
  • Own failures but share success.
  • Gratitude and Recognition feeds self-esteem (one’s assessment of self-worth) – one of our basic needs.
  • Inspire by improving the work, processes and rituals. Constant improvement leads to better engagement. “The greatest danger a team faces isn’t that it won’t become successful, but that it will, and then ease to improve.”
  • Celebrate successes and early wins.

A Note about Culture

  • It is said that an organization is an elongated shadow of the leader. As a leader, your beliefs, opinions, likes and dislikes will become the culture of your organization. It pays to be careful about what kind of organization you want to build.
  • Be the example others want to follow. If you want excellence, be excellent first. First “be” and then “seek”.
  • Culture is built one choice at a time. Choices made up in start-up phase often end up building culture.
  • If you are not conscious about what culture you want to build, culture will happen. Culture by default or Culture by Design? That is the choice every business leader has to make.

Growing Others

  • When people do the work, their work makes them. It helps to see what people are becoming as a result of the work. 
  • A leader’s real legacy is the net positive difference they have made in lives of people working in their team.
  • Actively mentor them through the journey. Mentors elevate human potential and hence performance. Mentors open up a world of possibilities for people being mentored. Great leaders are farmers – cultivators of human potential.
  • Practice tough love with them – push them to achieve more or achieve better!
  • Have a goal to make yourself redundant, so that others (with potential) can step up and play a bigger role.
  • Dr. John Maxwell puts in brilliantly, “The point of leading is not to cross the finish line first; it’s to take people across the finish line with you.”

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Also Download: Graceful Leadership 101 (PDF)

Great Quotes: Luc de Brabandere on Change, Innovation and Perceptions

When we encounter a change, we first perceive ourselves in a changed situation. So, our perception of the changed situation actually precedes the actual change and shapes our response.

In the same context, I read two quotes by Luc de Brabandere. The first quote comes from Forbes India article by NS Ramnath about N. R. Narayana Murthy being re-instated as Infosys Executive Chairman, where he quotes Luc:

“We believe that to really make change happen, changing the reality is of course necessary – this involves developing novel ideas for change, and the implementation of those ideas via project management and measurement, templates and the like. But changing reality is not sufficient – we must also change peoples’ perceptions .

This happens on much more of an individual basis; each stakeholder’s needs and biases must be taken into account. This can only be done through careful preparation and communication. So to really make change happen, we must change twice – reality and perception.”

Second quote comes from Luc’s 2011 interview with Boston Consulting Group, where he shares story of how Philips, a traditional electronics company,  executed “new box” thinking to realize a new world of possibilities. He concludes the interview with this thought:

That’s why I have completely changed my mind about brainstorming. I don’t think a successful brainstorm is a meeting at which a new concept suddenly arises. Rather, a successful brainstorm is a meeting at which an existing concept suddenly makes a lot of sense to a lot of people.

This really boils down to what Peter Senge defines as a mental model – our thought process about how something works in real world. When we change our perceptions, we may end up realizing that most of the constraints that we see may not be existent in the real world, except in our minds.

Review: Managers as Mentors by Chip Bell and Marshall Goldsmith

For thousands of years in India, there prevailed a tradition of “Guru-Shishya” – mentor and protégé in other words. In this relationship, which was a primary form of education then, powerful and subtle knowledge was conveyed to protégé on a one-on-one basis in an environment of complete trust, dedication and intimacy. As realization grew, the protégé would extend his lessons to others and so, wisdom kept flowing across generations.

Cut to the corporate environment today. Ability to provide mentoring is a part of almost every manager’s KRA. They are expected to help people grow and ensure that they learn as they do. Managers are the glue that builds engaged teams in organizations. But the reality is that managers get so engrossed with lines – deadlines and bottom lines – that they forget they also need to help others grow. Sadly, they start looking at people as “resources” to get the job done.

If I were to judge a manager’s performance, I would do so based on two parameters: 1) How effectively do the managers get the job done? 2) While doing so, how much did people in the team grew and learned? To be effective and make a lasting difference, managers have to be mentors first and then guardians of tasks.

Mentoring is an art. This week, Chip R. Bell and Marshall Goldsmith released the revised edition of their classic book “Managers as Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning” which I read with great interest. I loved the sub-title which says it all. Mentoring is the highest form of teaching and every manager who wants to make a difference in their people’s lives will find this book useful. I was reminded of the powerful tradition of “Guru-Shishya” while reading parts of this book.

The book starts with a section that defines mentoring. It says,

“At a most basic level, it is simply the act of helping another learn”…“Mentors” are people (especially leaders) who engage in deliberate actions aimed at promoting learning.”…”Bottom line, a mentor is simply someone who helps someone else learn something that would have otherwise been learned less well, more slowly, or not at all.”

The book then goes on to provide practical ideas and case studies that can help any manager in mentoring their team members effectively and thereby build an engaged and connected team that delivers results and grows. I also loved the useful tools (book has an entire mentors toolkit section) like self-check scale for a mentor which helps you assess your own aptitude to mentor others.

On a long run, a manager’s real legacy is not the projects executed, but difference made in the lives of other people. People already have potential hidden (like gold dust within the sand)  and a mentor’s job is to help a protégé so that the gold surfaces. It is about gently and constantly pushing them towards higher plane of possibilities and learning.

Learning and extending that learning to others in an organization is not a “feel-good-nice-to-have” thing – it is a competitive strategy that helps in innovation, improvement and growth.

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Also read: Other Book Reviews at QAspire Blog

In 100 Words: Brian Dyson On Life Priorities

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same.” Brian Dyson, CEO, Coca-Cola

A good life is all about balancing these balls!

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Image Courtesy: Joe Juggler: The Art of Juggling

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

Great Quotes: Bill Watterson on Life and Success

Bill Watterson, creator of comic series Calvin and Hobbes, gave an inspiring commencement speech at Kenyon College in May 1990 and it made for a very interesting read. Here is an excerpt from this thought-provoking speech:

Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you’re really buying into someone else’s system of values, rules and rewards.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

Glorious words of wisdom that got me thinking.  People work long and hard, achieve the so-called success and still feel desperate and incomplete. Why? Probably because they keep doing something they don’t love, just because it pays.

There are plenty of jobs for people who prefer money over meaning. The key to professional success, fulfillment and happiness is to find work you love and a way to get paid for it. Making meaning (and difference), it turns out, is the most potent way to make money.

Watterson concluded his speech with this brilliant quote:

Your preparation for the real world is not in the answers you’ve learned, but in the questions you’ve learned how to ask yourself.

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Bonus: Here is Seth Godin’s view on Doing what you love. He says,

Doing what you love is as important as ever, but if you’re going to make a living at it, it helps to find a niche where money flows as a regular consequence of the success of your idea. Loving what you do is almost as important as doing what you love, especially if you need to make a living at it. Go find a job you can commit to, a career or a business you can fall in love with.

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What is Heard and What is Felt

This may sound very simple but communication is all about transferring emotion and energy. Words are simply carriers of that emotion. Yes, choice of words matter, but that is not communication.

Consider this example.

The new sales director was on boarded with a lot of frenzy. In his first address to all the team members, he delivered a well crafted introduction. He spoke about himself, his past projects and then about how he intends to take this organization to new heights. If a transcript was created out of his speech, it would be a perfectly worded one. Yet, he was not able to establish the connection in this first address. At water-cooler conversations, people expressed skepticism. Even when everything he said was right, something was not right!

Clearly, there was a lot of focus on delivery and content and less on emotion, energy, intensity and conviction. His overall demeanor suggested that he was putting his own agendas first before focusing on others. He expressed his goals and desires without focusing on the need to understand the current context. He said it, but people felt that he did not mean it. 

Bottom line: As a leader, you talk to people more clearly through experiences you extend, not just through well-crafted words. Your words may be heard, but your attitude, emotion and intent are always felt.

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Photo Courtesy: KrossBow’s Flickr Photostream

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Other Related Posts at QAspire:

Clearing the Fog in Communication

Our communication at workplace needs a lot of simplification. Have you seen leaders who throw jargons and so called “hot words” that leave people more confused?

When a boss says, “We need to get this done soon”, people are left to wonder what soon actually means. I once observed a senior leader who was approached by his team member for some help on an issue. After thinking aloud for a while, the leader ended up saying, “You need to somehow close this ASAP.”  For a struggling team member who needed direction, words like “somehow” and “ASAP” added ambiguity and needless urgency leading to frustration.

In one instance, a manager delegated a report creation task to his team member with a note of “urgent and important”. The team member worked hard to deliver the report created the report in shortest possible time but then received no response from the manager for days. Was it really important? If not, how can it be urgent at all?

I have seen managers who request “quick calls” that go on for hours together. Meetings to “touch base” end up being meetings that “drill down”.

I see a huge need to simplify our communication – our words and our actions have to convey very specific (and congruent) messages. Jargons and hot words break the communication, creates barriers, robs understanding, adds clutter and leaves people guessing. “I need to get this report by 12:00 PM tomorrow so that I can review and send it across to customer by 4:00 PM” is much better than “I need it ASAP”. Next time you call something as “important”, make sure your subsequent actions also demonstrate the importance.

What if we stop using jargons where we need to be specific? If we clarify expectations relentlessly? Our work will be free of foggy messages and hence simpler. Clarity and congruence in thoughts, words and actions are first pre-requisites of being excellent at anything – more so if you are a leader.

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Photo Courtesy: Gavin Liewellyn’s Flickr

Quality: Ownership and Getting Better

Helsinki Lutherian Cathedral, Finland Photo By: Tanmay Vora

Quality you deliver has everything to do with how much you own your work, your actions and its respective impact on the other parts of the system you operate in. When you produce work that is useful, qualitative and something that others find valuable, it feeds your self-esteem and makes you a better individual. By consistently delivering better than you did last time, you raise the bar and grow.

It is a cyclic process and the one that starts with an intention to do better, not with just having better or superior skills. It is the same intention that drives the thing we call “ownership”. This means, unless you own your work, you will never be able to deliver better than you did last time. And when you do that, work becomes a part of your identity and you value it higher. You do well in things that you value more. In a knowledge world, your work carries your fingerprints. It tells a story about you. This is even more so if you are a leader at any level.

Downed by things like organizational hierarchy, our fear of failure, lack of trust with superiors, micromanagement and poor management, we often treat our work as a transaction. I do this and I get this. You do only that which is required by the job. Work like this for a few months and you will be indifferent, uninspired and if you are ambitious, stressed. Quality of your work will plummet down and growth will be stalled. Not a great way to work and live, particularly when this is the only life you (and we all) have!

Better alternative is to take charge from where you are. Acknowledge the problems, evaluate possible solutions and work your way out. This may not be easy, but on a long run, compromising on quality of your work because of these external factors and not growing through your work can be both painful and costly!

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Great Story: A Manager’s Function

I recently re-read a fantastic book “Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams” by Tom Demarco and Timothy Lister.

The book is filled with hard-won wisdom about executing projects and managing people for highest productivity.

Here is a real-life story from the book that underlines importance of the “human aspect” of our work; especially creative work that requires significant emotional involvement too.

In my early years as a developer, I was privileged to work on a project managed by Sharon Weinberg, now president of the Codd and Date Consulting Group. She was a walking example of much of what I now think of as enlightened management. One snowy day, I dragged myself out of a sickbed to pull together our shaky system for a user demo. Sharon came in and found me propped up at the console. She disappeared and came back a few minutes later with a container of soup. After she’d poured it into me and buoyed up my spirits, I asked her how she found time for such things with all the management work she had to do. She gave me her patented grin and said, Tom, this is management.”

Sharon knew what all good instinctive managers know: The manager’s function is not to make people work, but to make it possible for people to work.

Peopleware was first published some 25 years ago, and updated once since then. With such remarkable wisdom available to us, it is unfortunate to see many organizations and leaders still not getting the very essence of leading a knowledge-oriented and creative enterprise. Either they don’t read enough (which is dangerous) or they don’t practice what they already know.

It is all about people. As the book nicely puts it,

“The major problems of our work are not so much technological as sociological in nature.”

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Hansei and 6 Pitfalls to Avoid in Reflective Exercises

As individuals, teams and organizations, how much we learn from our past is critical for our improvement and future success.

Hansei (meaning self-reflection) is an important part of Japanese culture – an exercise undertaken to look at past mistakes, outline the lessons and pledge to act on those lessons. According to Wikipedia, “Han" means to change, turn over, or turn upside down. "Sei" means to look back upon, review, and examine oneself. This may sound like common-sense but how many organizations/teams really do Hansei effectively? By effectively, I mean not just identifying lessons and feeling good about it, but putting those lessons into actions the next time.

Here are some common pitfalls that should be avoided in any form of reflective exercise:

No Actions, No Results: In many other methodologies and cultures, Hansei is termed differently, like retrospectives in Scrum and After Action Reviews in American Culture (developed by US Army). But the essence remains the same – unless you act on your lessons learned, no improvement can happen. In such meetings, people often end up providing views, cite examples from the past, outline the lessons learned. All this is only helpful when it results into a meaningful change. Kaizen complements Hansei and ensures that lessons are executed.

Not Focusing on Emotion: True reflection is not about looking outwards but about looking inwards. It is not just an intellectual exercise but also an emotional one. It is only when our emotions are channeled that real improvement and meaningful change takes place.

Not Starting with You: As a leader, it all starts with one’s own willingness to look at shortcomings objectively. You can never expect people around you to be more willing to improve than you are.

Non-participation: Reflection is a highly collaborative sport. Most people and departments know what practices are required to improve. As a facilitator of a reflective exercise, help them outline solutions by asking open-ended questions. If people keep waiting for senior leaders to drive every single change, their wait will be way longer.

Reflecting only at the end: There is little advantage if you only reflect when all damage is done. Hansei is an attitude, a way of working. If you embed reflection as a part of how your team operates, early learning will help them adapt quickly. Reflection can also be done on events and milestones.

Isolating Events: Every event has a larger impact on other interconnected parts. If people only reflect on their part without considering the whole, isolated improvement may happen. When on a team, our contributions are interwoven, so are results.

Conducting reflection without addressing these common pitfalls will mean a waste of time. It will be a feel-good exercise and nothing else. I would like to conclude with a quote from Margaret Wheatley:

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

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Also Read: Using Kaizen for Employee Engagement and Improvement

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Photograph By: Tanmay Vora