The worst measure of productivity

2013/05/06

Of late, I’ve been coming across a lot of people who pride in how less they sleep. So much that, when there is a discussion around how hard they work, it always hovers around how less they sleep. And I have started to get a feeling that this is a measure of productivity for many people – hope I’m wrong here though.

While common sense would concur that this is not the best (if not the worst) measure of productivity, why would someone take pride in saying how less they sleep when the discussion is how hard they work? Is it because it is the easiest way to quantify the hard work quotient? Honestly, I have not come across any successful person talking about how many hours they sleep. In fact, I have only heard them advocating the importance of a good night’s sleep.

A better way to quantify the hard work quotient is probably how many hours we can put in at work on a weekly basis. This is holistic, gives time for all roles we need to play in life, and gives enough time for sleep. For example, I have read that Ashok Soota (co-founder of Mindtree consulting) clocks 70 hours a week at work. That is less than 50% of a week, still is a lot of work, gives enough time for all roles we want to play, and of course sleep. Needless to say, I believe he has to be highly productive given that he has been holding executive positions for more than half his lifetime, has co-founded one of the most successful companies, and at 70, has founded another company. Personally, I would like to clock not less than 55 hours at work every week – I know, I am not there yet.

So, do yourself a favor, sleep well, and if possible, take a power nap in the day. Basically, enjoy a productive life!!!

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8 Ways to Spot Untrustworthy People

2012/01/09

Another one on trust!!! As I said in a previous post, I’m a stickler for trust. Without that, I don’t think we can clearly distinguish ourselves from a carnivore that eats whatever it can when hungry. But still, we find untrustworthy people, who, in their late 20’s, think the best way to survive in “today’s world” is being manipulative.  I really feel the urge to ask them how many other worlds they know. I don’t, and before I digress, these are some traits I’ve noticed pretty consistently in untrustworthy people.

  • Not Sticking to Commitments – They don’t stick to their own commitments and find ways to the blame the meekest person, or the weather for that matter for not meeting them. Seriously, I had a team member who blamed sudden rains for not meeting deliverables, and he was in office that day.
  • Back Talking – They talk to you nicely, but talk about others in a, hmm, not so nice way. But if you catch them talking nicely to the same people whom they bitched about to you, don’t be surprised.
  • Seeing everyone as competition – They really can’t differentiate between a peer and a competitor. In their world, there is only one survivor at the end of each and every day, and as a result, it is imperative they should be the one. Many people can argue that is the case in reality, but it need not be – and I can write a 1500 words post on that alone.
  • Being politically right – Being nice is more important for them than being right. Such people just can’t talk anything on your face, nice or otherwise. There is always a hidden personal agenda. Sometimes, it can also be a result of the organization culture. I worked in a company that had an online training program titled Being Politically Savvy. I was not sure if it was a joke, but it reflected in the way most of the employees dealt with each other in that company.
  • Blab information – They pride in knowing information others don’t. Most times, the information might not even pertain to the conversation. It just does not matter. They know something, and even if they were not supposed to say it, they will, because they need to prove they know more than you.
  • Also, conceal information – This is also a typical trait. They believe in playing their cards close to their chest – which is not wrong – but many times, they conceal information to such extent that it even leads to failure of larger goals, if they don’t have major stakes on those results. If they do, they display traits of point 1. Sometimes, you can spot the same person showing this and the previous trait. They blab totally unrelated information, but conceal important information that leads to success of a common goal.
  • Flaunt a false sense of power – If such people are somewhere in the junior/middle management, they just don’t know what power is. Their only notion of power is – getting their subordinates to listen to them and not think. Well, do I really have to expand this further – I’m sure all of have had such bosses or even been one. Just a confession – I’ve had such bosses and also been one. But then, there are people who don’t have to be bosses to exhibit such traits.
  • Flaunt contacts they don’t have – If you know people who always know someone in anyplace, then you know what I’m talking about. The moment you utter some kind of problem or help you need, they fire all guns to tell you they know someone who can help you, but invariably that person would not be available just when you need them, though they had a conversation only the previous week. This might sound an innocuous trait, but please don’t depend on such people to get something done. And hey, I have done that many times over – to feel a false sense of pride.

These are some traits I have observed from my own experiences. I’m sure there are more, so how do you spot untrustworthy people?


12 Lessons Learnt from Failure…

2011/12/22

Learning from failure is a very important management principle that people talk about so much these days. It is a good tool no doubt, and I cannot claim that I don’t learn from them as much I can’t claim I don’t fail. So, here is a short list of my lessons from personal failures in whatever little experience I have. I definitely don’t have the breadth of experience to make a long list, so I will keep adding them as I get it.

  • Humility is an effective tool only if you have the power. If you don’t and still want to value humility, you are just a sitting duck.
  • If you think you are smarter than your boss, just shut up and find a better a job. You will not win the battle in case you decide to go for it.
  • If you do something embarrassing, own it, apologize and forget it. But beyond a point, pretend it didn’t happen. This holds true even if you have to live it up all the way.
  • Laugh at yourself. It’s much better than others laughing at you. And the chances of no one ever not laughing at you never exists.

These are lessons I learnt the hard way from other’s failures.

  • Behavior, intent & values should be consistent and complement one another. Bad behavior and good intent is pardonable. Good behavior but bad intent is a trait of the lesser being, easily identifiable, and not worth in the long run.
  • Insecurity breeds only in people who have absolutely no confidence in their skills and knowledge.
  • Having the right connections is no substitute for bad results. Even your connections will find ways of moving away if you produce bad results consistently.
  • Don’t do anything with money as the primary motivator. There is no way you will make enough money with inflation around.
  • But then, don’t pretend you don’t need money and you can survive on air and water. By the way, you need to pay your dues even for water.
  • Don’t try to work around people who deal with you honestly. You can never ever get back to them and there are not many people who do deal fairly.
  • BSing works in the short-term. Please don’t be apologetic in case you have short-term goals and BS to achieve it.
  • Kharma has its way of following you. Good and Bad!!!

So, what are your lessons from failures?


What can you do about a culture of Mistrust…

2011/07/01

Trust is a very personal thing. Many people can believe trust should between two people and should not be confused as a culture to be followed or propagated. But in many organizations, dysfunctions and interpersonal issues are mostly (from my personal experiences) offshoot’s of an underlying thread of mistrust. Most people are not willing to see anything beyond the layer of behavior and talk at lengths about what’s wrong and more importantly, with whom. Of course an organization is only a place we spend time in to fulfill a lot of our personal aspirations, but we spend considerable amount of time there. And if it bleeds of mistrust, we just can’t get up in the morning looking forward for a day’s work, even if it means just a check list item.

Some common symptoms of organizations bleeding in a culture of mistrust could include:

  • No meaningful confrontation happens, every dialogue happens through the immediate supervisor.
  • Only tasks are delegated, not responsibilities.
  • Issues are never isolated from people. Resolving issues always means pulling up people connected to it.
  • Data is not an important aspect in operations.
  • Data provided for anything is not validated, but contended.
  • Being politically right is more important than being right.
  • Personal interests always score over team/organizational goals, at any point of time.
  • People are more interested in saving the ass, rather than resolving issues.

The list can go on, but these are some of the major symptoms I have noticed from my experience. Requesting you to add your thoughts too in case I missed any.

And sometimes, we just accept this as reality and wait for the first opportunity to move on. Though that’s not wrong, I would say we can first try a few things to see if there is something we can do to make things better for us, and honestly for people around us before taking that step. And if we work in the capacity of managers, I guess it is our responsibility to try our best to make things better for our team and other teams as well.

Resort to meaningful dialogue – Talk directly to people to whom we have question. Rather than going to the manager, its better we talk to the people directly. It might work, or might not work, but it’s worth the try. This involves a lot of courage, but we should not forget it involves some consideration as well. Being honest is not an excuse for not treating people with respect.

Make Data the primary performance parameter N. R. Narayana Murthy once famously said, “In god we believe, everyone else brings data to the table”. This should not mean we must remove the human aspect out of the equation. Alarming data points can be used as a basis to understand issues, derive action items and then arrive at people responsible for them. In many cases, issues/deviation is more a factor of the process.

Identify process issues before people issues – Again this does not mean we should neglect people issues – which is very common – but does the process itself allow for eccentricities? You cannot expect a project to be profitable if it goes through 10 review cycles by different people, and expect the primary contributor to have a keen eye for detail too. You will end up overshooting the budget, and at the end of the day, the primary contributor will not be interested in doing things the first time right, given people are anyway going to have “new ideas” over every coffee they have.

Confront mistrust with honesty – M.K. Gandhi said the worst punishment you can hand over to an untrustworthy person is treating him/her with honestly. Nothing can be farther from truth. Always be honest and forthright with people, but don’t expect that favor to be returned.

Isolate issues from people – Whenever we need to resolve issues, its better we talk about the issue rather than the person responsible for it. Again, this is not to say people don’t screw up, but at least will help in building a culture of trust. Start with the issue, and then move to the people responsible for it.

Place facts over feelings – Feelings are generally an offshoot of behaviors. People “feel” something about others based on what he/she has “done” in the past. Though this is not something we should just disregard, it will help if we ask for facts. Feelings can be subjective, facts just cannot.

Trust people conditionally, and treat them respectfully – This is from one of my favorite authors – Stephen Covey. Trusting should not mean we blindly trust whatever people say. It’s better to also place accountability to what is said. We should specifically ask for instances/data when people generally provide malicious information about others. And this does not mean we should undervalue the importance of respect just because we have evidence of deviations. By treating people with respect and trusting them conditionally, we send out a very important message – I’m prepared to deal with issues and people who deviate from specified norms that you bring up, but that does not mean I will blindly trust you into pulling people up for “allegations”.

All the above points are a reflection of what can be done for a team/organization that is at the lowest level of trust quotient. Once the trust factor is established, we can move to more mature management/leadership principles like collaboration etc. What do you think?


When does a Manager Grow…

2011/04/15

I recently read a post, that talks about busting the “I can do anything” myth for a manager. These were some fundamentally sound thoughts and should be read by all managers and aspiring managers.

But then, these thoughts might help a front line manager. Leadership is not just about inspiring, motivating etc, agreed, but then is it about being the specialist? In my opinion, being a specialist will not pave way for a holistic picture of the business and environment in general. Leaders and managers may not, and in good many cases, cannot grow if they are functional specialists. The chances of growth are more if we are operational specialist, people who know a bit of everything, and everything of something. Did Bill Gates know anything about marketing or sales or HR when he started off? He was a specialist. But, could Microsoft have become so big if he had not known a few things about all functions without being a specialist in them?

For a manager to grow, the “I can do anything” myth is definitely not going to help. But knowing what you can do, getting help in places you cannot, knowing what questions to ask, understanding the right problems to solve, a deep understanding of the stake holders who are going to be benefited by solving the problems, etc. can be the key for leadership success and generally, leadership growth. It then boils down to a more fundamental thought – Humility. What will help a manager grow is the “I can manage anythingconfidence, but a deep rooted knowledge and acceptance of the “I don’t know everythinghumility. That way, the manager not only grows, but also helps the specialist grow by asking the right questions and brining into focus the specialists at the right time.

What do you think? Do you feel being a specialist is probably the best way to grow? Do you feel working at being a “true” generalist is not a good use of time? Or what else do you think is the best organic growth factor for a manager?


Education is only the means… And not the end

2011/02/07

Too simple and clinched, right? And when we see this, we probably get into denial mode and even rebuff this as a very fundamental knowledge not even worth a second look. But the reality is far, far, far from this. Many people I have come across – including professional and personal accomplices, and even some very close friends I have known for years – holding degrees or certifications cease to think beyond it, cease to accept a world that could be different and maybe better, and in reality, START TO THINK OF IT AS AN END.

Some typical behavioral traits (I’m not stereotyping here, just some traits I have personally come across) we can notice in people who think education is the end could include:

  • They generally look down upon people with lesser “qualifications”, irrespective of how good friends they are or how well intentioned their efforts and intent are – and they sometimes are brat enough to show it.
  • Their learning stops – which a cliché – but the most common behavioral trait is, they turn a blind ear/eye to others opinions, especially from people who are “lesser”, irrespective of the most honest of intent. They sometimes even stop all forms of reading – even for just fun – and even listening – unless it’s for another certification or degree of course.
  • Some even don’t want to listen to the opinions of people whose qualifications are “more”.
  • Most commonly, they say just by virtue of their degrees or certifications, they can demand more money for the same job that a person who does not hold it does. And do so too!!! Pretty dangerous for a long term career.
  • They even mock well meaning effort, intent and even achievements, undermine them, term it as sheer luck, and even go about showing how they really feel about these people – again, irrespective of how close friends they are with the well intentioned hard workers. Please note the usage of the term “people” and not “intent/achievements/hard work” in this point.
  • It’s hard to ignore, they have the air of “know it all” – sorry if this is not really tangible but it’s just hard to ignore.

Most of us holding fancy degrees think that will land us in a fancy or respectable job interviews. Right! Most of us also think that these degrees will mean success all through career and life. Wrong!!! Dreadfully wrong. The major mistake we make is that we don’t take these degrees in the right sense, which is providing a platform to make our jobs easier – basically acquisition of knowledge. In India particularly, learning is mostly the route way and securing degrees or certifications becomes tougher. When we take this tough way out, we tend to think the battle is won. Wrong!!! The battle just begins. And as we take on more responsibilities, the battle turns to an all out war – OK this was just an exaggeration, I just mean it gets harder as you move up.

In the whole process, we tend to undermine the importance of experience. Education is learning and acquiring knowledge. Experience is applying it. It’s a simple difference between smartness and wisdom. Smartness is choosing the right degree or certification to go after based on passion and logic; wisdom is knowing when and how to apply the knowledge gained from it. The latter does not come with just learning or education. It requires solid experience, many mistakes and some serious retrospection.

The bottom line is, the purpose of degrees and certifications from the days we knew it existed – I’m talking about the gurukul days of Indian culture – is acquisition and authorization of knowledge. It’s in our own best interest that we approach it that way. We cannot undermine the importance of experience, which is, knowing when and how to apply knowledge – and that in my opinion, is the fun part of knowledge in the first place.

 But on this other side, I have not seen many well intentioned and experienced hard workers undermine the “degree holder” – which does not make them saints either, my next post is on that – and honestly, I think experiences teaches that, to leverage all options, including degrees and knowledge from education,  and enhance overall effectiveness.

People with experience and some hard reached achievements but no fancy degrees, if at all get to read this post, will probably think they are saints and vindicated – WRONG!!! People with fancy degrees, again if at all they get to read this post, probably think either the author is personally against fancy degree holders because he does not hold one, or probably think these don’t apply to them, they are beyond it and not their traits.


Treks do Teach something

2010/02/04

We completed our third trek in less than 6 months – not bad for a guy who is not even married for 6 months uh? I don’t know when I started to call my travel “treks”, or how I started liking them, but I have always believed in travelling frugal with minimal baggage – including just barely enough clothes, elementary toilet supplies, absolutely no medications, no major planning, and more importantly, just about enough money. I also believed a vacation essentially meant running as far away from civilization as possible – with access to basic human requirements – food, shelter and clothes (but I started longed for a credit card acceptance recently though).

So when I joined a group of people for regular treks, i was neither bowled over or nervous – excited I was though.  Each of the 9 treks I had done were unique in one sense and common in another. Unique because each had unique experiences (of course, why else are there so many places in the world to visit), common because what I saw and you could say “learnt” were pretty much common.

Never try to fight nature

Because you cannot. Simple! Try to be with it. Nature has its laws and we try to continuously break it for our convenience. Just like its natural for you get drenched if you are deep inside a jungle when its raining, its natural to shift according to the calls of natural cycles (like business cycles?). And don’t worry, you will catch a cold or fever only if you move to a warmer place immediately, if you allow the body temperature to shift according to the outside temperature, you should be fine (I’m no doc, but I learnt this the hard way).

Never be scared by things you cannot figure out

If you cannot figure out or see something, what is there in it to be scared? Risk management is a very serious subject, but buffering just for the heck of it saying “we might face something – who knows” is not a good strategy. Either identify them and figure them out, or just ignore them. When we hear strange jungle sounds but cannot see them, we tend to either ignore them or figure them out. Freaking out never helped us. If we know what it was, we sort of know what to do. If we see elephant droppings in millions around us, we do freak out, but never stop walking. Irrespective of what the “risk” is, decide on what you would to face it and move on.

Remember there is only one way – Forward

You might be tired, you might feel like puking or passing off, but you don’t have a choice, just keep moving in the direction the trails take you. Once the focus is set right and goals clearly established, just go for it with whatever you have. There is not bigger motivator for you than yourself. You just cannot turn back once you are committed – what you would loose is much more that way.

Stick together with your herd

Just like elephants do all the time, the best way to survive a three day jungle trek is being with your group unless you are on a tested trail – and let me tell you, trekking is no fun on a tested trail. When you are treading a new path, better stick around with the team. Do yourself a service, please don’t set yourself unrealistic expectations of being an one man army. Such a thing is only fantasy.

Take things as they come

Extension of point 2 – no point guessing what you would see of encounter next. Just move towards the goal as a team and trust your instincts and nature. You would encounter numerous hurdles (whats the fun or better still, “challenge” otherwise), but try to figure them out and move on, you have a better chance of success.

Its OK to follow someone

Yes, individualism is important and thats what keeps a person going and motivated, but honestly its OK to follow someone. If you cannot figure out the trails and someone else can, just follow him/her. You are safer that way. Similarly, if you want to lead, better be sure where you are heading. You might be on the wrong trail, but if you have your fundamentals right, you would reach the right course one way or the other. Get your fundamentals right, you can survive any challenge. Read Gandhi’s autobiography or Steven Covey’s leadership materials to get an understanding of what right fundamentals might mean.

Reserve the biggest celebration only for the ultimate goal

We have gone for binges on the peak only to realize that we cannot cover even a single mile without being dehydrated to death – not literally though. But when we do the binge after reaching safe ground, its not only rewarding, but sometimes we get a feeling the body also easeing out a bit – hallucinations maybe.

Have fun

You might not have water and now know when your next source of water would be, you might have to rely upon energy bars for nutrition (which my mom never allowed me to have more than 1 a day), you might not even have access to an ATM, but as long as you can find fun in what you do, you would not loose it mid way. Just enjoy what you are doing once you are committed, laugh at yourself a bit, don’t be too self conscious – just don’t worry, the world will survive 2012.

Disclaimer: If these sound very similar to the thousands of “leadership” articles you have come across already, I apologize – I read some too.


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