Saturday, July 11, 2015

Unleashing People Potential

Thales said, “The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself.” Why? Because it includes uncovering blind spots in your self-awareness - Knowing what you have (your strengths), what you don’t have (your weaknesses), what you like to do/be (your passion), what you don’t like to do/be (your fear and dislikes), what you want to achieve (your goal), and how you plan to reach there.

The most important trait that distinguishes humans from non-living things is that we grow [biologically] whereas they don’t. And the trait that makes an ordinary human successful is her professional growth. But how do we grow? Horizontally as well as vertically… Is there any prescribed formula to climb the corporate ladder? Can you [always] rely on someone sitting on top to pull you upwards? Can you assume that the ecosystem will [always] be favorable to you? The answer [for most of us] would be, “No.” Your growth [more than often] is your responsibility. Surrounding will not change. You need to change yourself and create opportunities for yourself to play your strengths and get best out of existing surroundings. Pace of the growth is not important. Growing is. There is also a Chinese proverb that says, “Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.

Overwhelmed? Scared? Confused? Need help? If yes, you need a Mentor. Or a Coach? Before we
proceed, let’s clarify this confusion.

Mentor is a person or friend (not necessarily the Manager/Supervisor) who guides a [less experienced] person [mentee] by building trust and modelling positive behaviours. She understands that her role is to be dependable, engaged, authentic, and tuned into the needs of the mentee. Mentoring is a power free situation where the Mentor provides advice, shares knowledge [skills] and experiences, and teaches using a self-discovery (and self-development and self-sufficiency) approach with the goal of holistic development of the mentee. She is both a source of information/knowledge and a Socratic questioner.

Coaching is training or development in which the Coach supports (and encourages) a learner [coachee] in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing required directions, instructions and training. For example, you take coaching for Football, Baseball, Cricket, Badminton, Bharatnatyam Dance, preparation for engineering/medical college entrance test, etc. Coaching differs from mentoring in focusing on specific tasks or objectives, as opposed to general goals or overall development. A Coach [often] has some authority over her coachee. Her concern is your performance, ability to adapt to change, and enrolling you support in the vision/direction for the specific task/goal/target/delivery/group/organization.

You see a big overlap. Right? Actually, there is. Though all mentors may not necessarily be coaches, but all coaches [to be effective] need to be mentors. And both aim to unleash your true potential, and help you come out of your comfort zone (the greatest enemy of your courage and confidence). In this article, I intend to focus on the common role of the two roles. You may call it Coach or Mentor or Moach or Mentoach. For my own convenience I’ll still call it a Coach. Wherever relevant, I’ll be referring to my previous articles.

A Coach is always a Leader who leads from the front, and has already finished her journey from Illness(‘I’) to Wellness (‘We’). She develops and possesses various skills and efforts that are aimed at guiding employees to achieve high productivity and positive results. She helps [in setting your date with your inner-self], she guides, she shows alternate paths [to reach the goal], but she lets you choose the path you want to pursue. Understand it like this. Say it’s your Sabbatical and you are planning a holiday. For this, first you need to see which places/activities excite you and your family (beach, mountain, adventure, casinos, museums,…). This helps you in shortlisting few options to consider. Then you check your family’s availability (and health) to decide the time and duration of the trip. Then you look at various transport options (flight, train, bus, self-drive, etc.) to reach the shortlisted options. Then you look at other logistics (lodging, food, destination weather, etc.) And then you look at your budget (and other constraints and safety measures) to finalize the plan. A Coach, in your professional life, guides you thru this entire process. She is Carrier of your Career. She helps you in knowing who you are, what you want, and how you can (what are the options for you to) reach there.

Remember that your Coach is not your Mom (though every Mom is a Coach). So, she does not [always] spoon feed. She develops a trust channel and relationship bonding with her team [coachees/ mentee], and empowers them (by building confidence and competence) to be part of the collaborative decision making process. Rather than being a "hands off" approach, coaching means being very involved in the employee's progress. A Coach challenges and develops her employees' skills and abilities to achieve the best performance results. The emphasis is not on checking and monitoring but on developing a higher level of performance. She is a smart delegator and maintains good communication (articulating the department's goals and values in a clear concise manner) and a high degree of trust with the delegatee. She provides adequate direction and clarity to ensure that employees understand the context in which they work, so that they can see the link between their performance and the department's overall success (and can understand priorities and stay focused).

A Coach is responsible for creating a learning environment where employees are supported in their
efforts to continuously improve to meet today's (and tomorrow’s) challenges. She assesses current capability, provides periodic and regular feedback, takes timely required corrective actions (including, reducing scope, or extending deadlines, or providing additional resources or training, etc.), helps employees to identify what is needed, and creates needed opportunities to fill in the gap. She develops capabilities in her employees to solve problems and make decisions. This is done by asking the right questions, challenging the employee's thinking, offering new options, supplying additional information that expands employee's understanding, or providing a new interpretation to a situation. The Coach doesn't follow the same model/methodology to coach/mentor everybody (Pl. refer to my A Driver and A Passenger analogy). For Top performers (Super Stars), she focuses on their Strengths, Passion and Dislikes (by providing them opportunities and platforms to play their skills and follow their passion). For Low Performers, she focuses on their Weaknesses and Fears (by providing them appropriate and timely adjusting feedback, and required training and support). Based on the need of the hour, she may follow either of the “Tell”,“Sell”, “Consult” or “Join” models. There will also be times when she would serve as a sounding board for the employee as she develops her own strategy for overcoming the obstacle.

But no matter what, a Coach always looks at mirror when it comes to passing blames, and looks out of window when it comes to sharing the credit. She never looks at her team as her competitor. And, she also provides her team a "safe" environment for creativity and risk taking (following the mantra of: Fail Often, Fail Fast and Fail Cheap). Mistakes are viewed as lessons learned and setbacks are considered as opportunities for development. She understands that Result, Processes and Relationship are the three equally important dimensions of the success. The overall objective is always employee commitment to achieving better performance and organizational goals…

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Are you a Boss or a Leader?

"Dad, Are you a Boss or a Leader?” asked my 14 year old Son. “Why do you ask?” taken by surprise I inquired. “Well, there was a question on this in my English Test. And none of us in my class knew the exact difference between the two. As you’ve been managing for years, I thought you’d know,” he replied. I thought for a while, thought of all Bosses I’ve worked with in my 19+ years career. I didn’t even remember many... but few special moments with couple of them had etched in my memory. “Is this the difference?” I asked myself. But before answering him, I decided to put this question to couple of Managers I know. Though they gave their versions, but I sensed lack of clarity on this. And then it occurred to me to revive this forum sharing my own thoughts on this topic.

The terms ‘Boss’ and ‘Leader’ are not synonyms, but nor are these antonyms. While a Leader can be a Boss, not every Boss is a Leader. Every team has a Boss, but they really need a Leader. A Leader is considered the one who influences surroundings and people (not necessarily reporting to him) to attain desired objectives. Exceptional leadership begins with a positive view of people and ends with remarkable accomplishments. A Leader listens, trusts, inspires, motivates, guides, mentors, coaches, and is always a great partner in his peoples’ journey of success. While a Boss can get things done (through his team) today, a Leader can get things done today, tomorrow, day-after and after. Many Bosses often set their team up to fail (acting as a disabler), whereas all the Leaders always set their people up for success (acting as an enabler). A Leader is always considered as a part of the group and believed to encourage by creating the footsteps to follow. Bosses often just give orders from pedestal (and tend to rule by fear), while Leaders lead from the front and lead by example.

A Boss may have high IQ but often lacks EQ. A Leader possesses both. A Boss only sees things in black and white, while a Leader also sees the grey. A Boss demotivates with impassiveness, while a Leader inspires with caring and empathy. Leaders define a set of core values for themselves and live these values in their everyday life. They are genuine to themselves, their team, their work, their customers, and their surroundings. They treat everyone fairly and equally. In the roller coaster of ups and downs, while Bosses scream (and intimidate into action), the Leaders remain cool, calm and composed, and enjoy the ride (and motivate to action).

One of the key factors that differentiate a Leader from a Boss is personal humility. A Boss, in the aggressive pursuit of recognition, tends to hog the limelight when things run smoothly but points fingers as soon as the ball drops. Leaders, on the other hand, credit others for their success and blame themselves for small bumps along the road to greatness. ‘I’, ‘Me’, ‘Myself’ – These are the 3 magic words that Leaders use only when stuck in mud of Failure, while Bosses sing this song only when standing on a Victory Podium. The journey from being a ‘Boss’ to be a ‘Leader’ is same as the journey from Illness(‘I’) to Wellness (‘We’).

A Leader is a great Strategist. He has a clear vision, mission, and a well-defined action plan to execute in pursuit of the mission. A Boss gets lost in the details and just manages to an end, while the Leader keeps the big picture and serves for a purpose. Leaders are not arrogant nor embarrassed to learn from their juniors. At the same time, they are always eager to teach and nurture new professionals. They don’t spoon-feed people but provide them with adequate knowledge and trainings, so that they become an important part of self-sufficient and self-driven task force. Leaders create a fear-free environment and encourage team members to take calculated risks to embrace ambiguities and think out of the box . They are great Execuvators and always follow the ‘Fail often, Fail fast and Fail cheap’ mantra. Leaders know how to multiply the chances of their success using the powerful tool of Effective Delegation.

Leaders are collaborative, flexible, and receptive. They very well understand that success in collaborative efforts is a multi-dimensional affair, not solely defined by ‘Results’ (goal or task accomplished), but also by ‘Process’ (the way or spirit in which effort is carried out) and ‘Relationship’ (the quality of the connections among the people engaged in the effort). While a Boss is mostly concerned with outcomes, a Leader feels responsible for the process of that outcome and the people who see it out. The Leader understands the value of timely and periodic recognition, appreciation and admiration. All ‘great’ organizations embrace collaborative Leaders more than ‘lone wolf’ Bosses.

So, how would you evaluate your management style? Are you a Boss or a Leader? What about your Manager? And the guy sitting in the corner office on your floor?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

‘I’, ‘Me’, ‘Myself’ – The 3 Words Managers should use Only when stuck in mud of Failure, Not when standing on Victory Podium

My last post touched on the painful reality of how Managers, just to score brownie points with their bosses, are getting trapped into the race of “let’s play Innovation” and downplaying importance of efficient execution. This post addresses a similar issue of how, in the aggressive pursuit of recognition, many Managers today are clamoring for their self-promotion. The most classic symptom of this issue is the management who routinely states, “I did this” or “I did that” rather than “We did this or that”. The fact these managers must come to terms with is that for them to be effective and successful they need to take a journey from Illness (‘I’) to Wellness (‘We’).

According to Jim Collins in his groundbreaking book “Good to Great”, Level 5 leaders look out of the window to credit others for success and look in the mirror to apportion responsibility when things don't go as planned. One of the key factors that differentiate a great ‘Leader’ from a charismatic ‘Bragger’ is personal humility. Great leaders credit others for their success and blame themselves for small bumps along the road to greatness.

Now the question you need to ask yourself is, “Am I a Leader or a Bragger?” As a Manager, do you tend to hog the limelight when things run smoothly but point fingers as soon as the ball drops? Do you take the majority of credit for your team’s accomplishments to impress the higher ups? Or, do you take less credit and accept more of the blame?

Leaders understand the value of timely and periodic recognition, appreciation and admiration. They always give their team their due credit, acknowledge and celebrate their achievements (Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone), and own the blame in case of failure. They give their team enough protection and encourage the failure – following the ‘Fail often, Fail fast and Fail cheap’ mantra. This creates a fear-free environment in the team and encourages team members to take calculated risks to try new things (innovation). On the other hand, failing to do so not only fosters resentment and demotivates team, but also makes you seem selfish and untrustworthy.

‘I’, ‘Me’, ‘Myself’ – These are the 3 magic words that Managers should use Only when stuck in mud of Failure, Not when standing on the Victory Podium. It shows your humility admitting personal responsibility for your team’s errors, and demonstrates your self-confidence when highlighting your team’s role in triumphs.

Scared? Scared that if you do not constantly tout how great you are, it’ll slow down your growth? Scared because since childhood you've been taught to be competitive and always been pitted against one other, from scoring marks to excelling in a competition? Scared because you always have been expected to get appreciated by your Teachers and everyone else in your locality? Scared because you unintentionally started believing that if you appreciate someone then she may grow faster (or be more popular) than you? Don’t worry. You are NOT competing against your team. A good Manager is considered the one who influences his team to attain desired objectives. He is the one who can get things done (through his team) today and tomorrow. He encourages his people to excel but doesn’t shirk from dealing with low performers. As a Manager, your success (or failure) is measured in terms of your team’s success (or failure). Remember that in the game of Chess, the King is the most important piece but is not one of the strongest. It can win the war only with the help of other pieces.

All “great” organizations embrace collaborative Managers more than “lone wolf” Managers. Managers are measured on their leadership skills, not solely on their personal achievements or how boastful they are. If you do the right things, in the end it’s your team who’ll be bragging about you loud and proud. You'd automatically get awarded not only for the overall success but also for being a great leader.

All “great” organizations cultivate culture of appreciation. Managers with maximum ‘Appreciation Index’ in their teams reach to the top the soonest. The old adage goes - History remembers Kings, not Soldiers.  
And more than Kings, it remembers Kingmakers. So, next time you are standing on the Victory Podium remember that being Appreciative is highly Appreciated

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Execuvation: “Execution in Innovation” + “Innovation in Execution”

These days, it's become almost fashionable for Managers to talk about Innovation. But for many of them this is just a way to score brownie points with their bosses. They aren’t actually implementing Innovation, nor do they have any insight into what they mean by Innovation. And in this race of “let’s play Innovation” they unnecessarily start downplaying importance of Execution and stop rewarding good Executors.

On the other hand, Managers accountable for deliveries always need to live with limited resources. These constraints always cause a conflict between Execution and Innovation, making many of them biased towards Execution and treat Innovation as a step child.

What both these kinds fail to understand is that Innovation and Execution are not co-wives. Nor there can be any dichotomy between the two. Innovation and Execution actually complement each other. As much as a great idea with poor Execution is a sure failure, so too is a bad idea with great Execution. Effective Managers understand that both Execution and Innovation are of the utmost importance and both have the same weightage. Rather than swamping themselves with the traditional aspects of management, they consciously allocate some time for themselves to lead the Innovation process. Project Management is no longer just Execution Management these days. It is now about Execuvation Management: “Execution in Innovation” +Innovation in Execution”.

Execution in Innovation

An idea without proper implementation and application is just an idea or an empty promise. Implementation and application is nothing but Execution. So, “Idea + Execution = Innovation”. Successfully taking an idea from thought or concept level quickly to a solid 1.0 product stage is Innovation. Just conceiving a baby is not enough. Unless you just want to end up becoming a sperm donor (or womb lender), you must put planned and dedicated effort to nourish the developing life and effectively execute the 9 months of delivery period to see birth of your healthy baby. Similarly just thinking a big idea is not enough. Baking the idea, coming up with quick proof of concepts, pretotyping, building prototypes, successive prototypes, and making revisions in the idea/concept along the way – this iterative process leads to the real Innovation.

Innovation in Execution

Embedded in every step of Execution is Innovation. Big ideas are not born every day. It is small ideas that make the big difference. Ideas that lead to better plans, improved processes and more efficient Execution – each iteration getting better results and productivity, requiring lesser cost, lesser resources and lesser time. Using Jugaad to overcome constraints is Innovation. Any move that improves time management, task prioritization and scoping, and maximizes RoI is Innovation. Understanding need of the hour and taking calculated risk - Fail often, Fail fast and Fail cheap - is Innovation. Failing to Plan is planning to fail. So, proper planning is Innovation. When something precious is at risk (your life, your money, your growth, or your reputation), you innovate to save it. So, surviving in adverse surroundings is Innovation. Point I am trying to make here is that we all have been innovating on daily basis all our life without even realizing this. It’s because all our life we’ve been taught that innovation means coming up with big ideas that can win Nobel Prize or generate Patents or make Publications or convert into game changing Businesses. While true this is an incomplete definition of Innovation. This doesn’t include Day to Day Innovation, used by people working on real problems in their day-to-day work.

An effective Execuvation Manager needs to find a fine balance between Execution and Innovation. Remember that Innovation cannot be forced - it can only be encouraged and facilitated. Motivate Innovation but do not demotivate smart and efficient Execution. Encourage your team to use Innovation in their day to day Execution. If your team is master in Execution, you can afford to pull out some handfuls to try Blue Ocean Innovation.

Every team has great thinkers, great architects/designers and great coders/implementers. Compose a team of one or two engineers each with these qualities/skills. If you have big team, include more. Don’t be surprised if in doing this you find that some of your most talented, capable, and passionate employees always had been deep buried in routine tasks and day-to-day firefighting. Tap the invisible resource of these core team members and challenge them with stretched goals. Give them enough time (from their routine project tasks), opportunity and platform to play their strengths, and provide them with necessary tools, guidance and assistance. Give them freedom and flexibility, but be specific in terms of goals, outcomes and constraints. Move away from fear-based approach, give them enough protection and encourage the failure – follow ‘Fail often, Fail fast and Fail cheap’ mantra. If you want to change the world, get comfortable with the uncomfortable...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

To DELEGATE is not to DELEte the GATE for the Passage of Excellence

You do what you can do the best, delegate the rest. The secret of success is not in doing everything on your own, but in identifying the right person to do it. Yes I said that good executors must be proficient in multi-tasking. But efficient multi-tasking requires you to master the art of proper time management, proper prioritization of tasks, proper scoping of tasks, and proper delegation of tasks. Delegation is an effective means of developing you and your team, and a key to the organizational prosperity.
Delegation is the assignment of authority (by the delegator) to another person (the delegatee) to carry out a specific job-related activity. Thumb of rule: Not everyone can do everything; and not everything can be delegated. For example, when you decide to get married, you can delegate the process of facilitating finding suitable match for you, you can delegate the process of making arrangements for the wedding, but you do not delegate the process of taking vows or going to your honeymoon.

Delegation doesn’t necessarily need to be a vertical process – it can be both horizontal (peer to peer) and vertical (manager to managee). Your ability to influence and delegate to others (over whom you have no direct control) to attain desired objectives is critical to your success.
Delegation is much more than just a task assignment. To be a smart delegator, you need to follow SMARTER acronym checklist as delegation rule – Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, Timebound, Ethical/ Exciting, and Recorded. Before delegating you need to assess ability and training needs. It must be accompanied by effective coaching and grooming. As a delegator it is your responsibility to provide the delegatee all necessary information, equip him with all needed tools, and help him develop the skills needed to get the job done. Remember that a good delegator is the one who can get things done (from the delegatee) today and tomorrow. As a commander in charge you must train your soldiers with all military ambush tactics and load them with latest weapons before you send them to the border to serve their duty, so that they all come back alive on their feet with winning flags in their hands.
Effective delegation requires good communication and a high degree of trust between the delegator and the delegatee. The assignment (and the communication) should be such that the delegatee finds it challenging and interesting, and feels special, excited and motivated to apply his 100% to complete it with perfection. On the other hand, however, you should never delegate assignments from your boss that he expects you to do personally. Also once a task delegated, you should avoid the reverse delegation - Offer help and support, take all necessary steps to help the delegatee succeed, be patient, be prepared for the cheap failures, but unless stakes are too high don’t take back the delegated assignment.
Delegation involves passing someone the Responsibility and Authority to do something that otherwise is part of the delegator’s job. The delegated responsibilities need to be clearly defined to avoid any confusion or mismatch between the delegatee’s perspective of the role/assignment and the real expectations from that delegation. The lack of shared understanding can lead to issues in performance and lack of accountability. Define and communicate WHAT and SCOPE of the assigned task – expected outcome, completion criteria, boundaries and other constraints (e.g., budget, timeframe, quality requirements) – but avoid prescribing HOW the assignment should be completed. Always support the decision taken by the delegatee as long as it adheres to the constraints.
Delegation also involves passing some of the Accountability to the delegatee, making him Accountable for the results. But the ultimate Accountability still lies with you (the delegator). That’s why it is important for you to follow the “Trust but verify” model. Establish appropriate controls and checkpoints to monitor progress. Define Completion Criteria for each major task and Exit Criteria for each milestone. Ideally there should be a checklist associated with each delegation to evaluate the results.
There is a wide range of varying freedom that you can confer on the delegatee. The more experienced and reliable the delegatee is, the more freedom you can give. The more critical the task is, the more cautious you need to be about extending a lot of freedom. Take care to choose the most appropriate style for each situation. I love to give analogy of “A Driver and A Passenger” in this context. Consider yourself (the delegator) as a Passenger who must catch 9 AM flight (consider this as your goal/objective). Currently it is 6 AM. You go to your Driver (the delegatee). You explain him the situation, tell him how important it is for you to catch this flight, enquire him about his familiarity of the airport route and whether he has been there before or not, suggest him the shortest/quickest/quietest route, and then take your back seat in the car. Now you may relax and sleep in the back seat (highest level of freedom/ delegation), you may read news paper and periodically check whether he is taking the right route (and whether he is driving at adequate speed) or not and ignore small mistakes/ deviations but correct him if absolutely required, or you may keep instructing him on each signal (micro management or lowest level of freedom/delegation). It all depends upon the Driver’s abilities and performance, current time, and how far you currently are from the airport. If in the worst case you find that the Driver is not capable of driving (or he is drunk) then you should even be willing to (and capable of) driving on your own. In all cases you MUST catch the 9 AM flight.
While delegating critical tasks or when the delegatee is less experienced, set a clear expectation that the delegatee should NOT compromise on Quality to deal with other constraints. He should know that Quality comes first, then Schedules, and then Features. Also instruct him to raise Yellow flags as soon as they are discovered, so that you never need to deal with Red flags. Develop sense of “end to end” ownership in your delegatee, but, at the same time, encourage him NOT to make any assumptions and to seek help/ guidance whenever he is in doubt. Tell him not to wait for his weekly status meeting/ reports to hear about the bottlenecks/ blockers from his team members. Understanding need of the hour and quickly responding to it (flexible and dynamic planning/execution tailored for the situation) is very important. Also encourage him to experiment with non-traditional communication ways if the formal ones seem too tedious and slow (bottleneck) in that context.
It is also essential for you to provide periodic feedback to the delegatee - to let him know how he is doing, and whether he has achieved his aim. If not, you must review with him why things did not go to plan, and deal with the problems. Remember that A Stitch in Time Saves Nine.
After the task is complete, give the appropriate recognition and due credit to the delegatee. Remember that a good leader always looks at mirror when it comes to passing blames, and looks out of window when it comes to sharing the credit. You must absorb the consequences of failure, and pass on the credit for success. If you follow this philosophy, you'd automatically get appreciation not only for the overall success but also for being a great delegator. The old adage goes - History remembers Kings, not Soldiers.  And more than Kings, it remembers Kingmakers.
And finally celebrate the accomplishment of your delegatee - acknowledging small successes as well as large. Such celebrations are a great platform to convey appreciation and value, to build others' confidence, to foster a safe and supportive environment, and to model the behavior for others to emulate.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Creating Your Career Graph Timeline

After creating mySWLD matrix, I will now discuss how you can create myTimeline – another self-analysis tool that I’ve invented to help my people professionally grow. This is for you to see who you are, what you have, where you want to be, and where you are heading…

Let me ask you something. What’s your Ambition in life? What do you want to be in your life? What is your professional goal? Few of us have no idea. Many of us associate our goals to certain designations or compensations or acquiring certain physical luxuries. And most of us do not associate/correlate our goals with our mySWLD matrix.

Knowing your Ambition is an integral part of knowing who you are. You are likely to board a wrong Plane, unless you know your destination. The ability to self-motivate and succeed in life is also rooted in one's level of ambition. So, have a date with your inner self and think (think deep) about it.

And when you know what your ambition or goal is, rewind your clock and cast you mind back Two years. Now think hard and note down who you were and what used to describe you at that point of your life. What were your strengths, skill-set and USP? What all were you known for? What was your value and reputation in your team/organization/college? Let’s call it the “starting point” of myTimeLine.

Now come forward 6 months on this timeline. And think and list down the Delta – what did you gain and what you lost (wrt the starting point on the timeline) with time. You may have learnt/gained certain new skills, and you may have increased both depth as well as width in certain expertise areas. And of-course you became more experienced and more mature (as you had become 6 months older in age). But at the same time, you may have lost edge/command over certain skills. Your expertise area may have gone thru revision or may have become obsolete (and totally replaced with newer technology/process/methodology), and your skill may have become outdated. You may have become rusty or you may even have forgot what you had learnt (and remembered) 6 months back. And as you grew older you may have lost some bit of your energy, enthusiasm, and spark/curiosity to learn new. With more personal responsibilities your way, you may have even lost some of the time-bandwidth available for your professional life. Note down all these +ve and -ve deltas on this point of myTimeLine.

Repeat the above step of identifying deltas for remaining 6-month-interval points, until you reach to the present. Then, starting from the starting point, draw a career skills/expertise graph line. This is your Career Graph Timeline (refer to it as myTimeline).

Now see if your myTimeline is actually moving towards your “goal point”. If not, take it as a wakeup call, and take whatever corrective actions are necessary to bring it back on track (might mean taking a U-Turn, or a simple diversion, or something in between). Remember your mission, your goal and your objective. And tweak your strategy and tactics to reach there. Sooner you realize where you wanted to reach, where you are actually headed, what went wrong, and how to fix it, the better (and easier) it would be for you achieve what you had dreamt for…

Creating Your SWLD Matrix

It’s fun to have date with yourself, your inner self. And when you want to find the Real You, you need to know Your Strengths, Your Weaknesses, Your likings and Your Disliking. In this blog, I will discuss a self discovery tool that I’ve invented to help my people professionally grow – Creating the SWLD Matrix.

Beginning with your strengths, make a list of five areas in which you excel, starting with the strongest. Maybe your strongest skill is number crunching, planning, execution, problem solving, making presentations, motivating or hiring, but whatever it is, it’s important that you know it inside and out. Don’t limit yourself to any specific area or field. You may be good in multiple areas – personal, technical, domain, managerial, etc. etc. Think about all of them. Try staying away from listing abstract qualities and be as specific & concrete as possible. For example, if you say that you are good in multi-tasking it really means that you are good in time management, prioritization of tasks and scoping of tasks in hand. If you are not really good in all of the above, list only the sub-areas where you are really good at. Similarly, instead of saying that I am technically good, try to list specific technologies, domains, programming languages, environments, platforms and areas where you have expertise.

Similarly, make a list of the five areas where you are the weakest (again starting with the weakest). This is important because you need to know what areas you need to stay away from, or need improvement on, or need to seek help (guidance, training, coaching, mentorship, etc. etc.) on. These items are the things that, if not properly handled, can wreck your growth plans before they even get off the ground.

Then again get in touch with yourself and think about tasks that you really like doing. Even if you are not told to do this, or even if it is not part of your primary job/responsibility, you end up doing it on your own time because you are really passionate and enthusiastic about doing these tasks. These are your likings. Most of the time, you would find a big overlap between your strengths and likings.

Finally, list the tasks and areas which you really don’t like getting into. You either never deal with them or, if forced to do, would do them half heartedly. Don’t be surprised if you find an overlap between your weaknesses and disliking. Knowingly or unknowingly, we get ourselves into one or the other comfort zone, where we feel secure and comfortable. We start liking areas where we excel. And we start disliking (and avoiding) areas where our inner-self knows that we are not strong at. The Idea here is to break out of your comfort zone to achieve success.

Put above identified strengths, weaknesses, liking and disliking in four quadrants of a matrix – and call it mySWLD matrix.

Now focus on the entries in the “strengths” quadrant of the matrix which are not getting used (at all or on consistent basis). And then work closely with you team and management to create more opportunities for yourself (within given reality and limitations of the business you are in) to play your strengths. When you focus on what you CAN do, opportunities arise and people flow into your life to help you. The more you play your strengths, the more you flex your strong muscle, the better you would be able to convert your potential and abilities into productive output. And more you will be able to add value to your team, project, division and organization. Yes, I said that your growth is your responsibility. But if you play your cards right, you may make your Manager co-responsible for your growth (and may get more chances to play your strengths).

Then focus on the in the “weakness” quadrant of the matrix which are impacting your day-to-day performance (quite often or on consistent basis). And then work closely with your team and Manager to “do whatever it takes” to improve in these areas. It may require a change in your aptitude as well as attitude. This is your opportunity to seek help (coaching, training, mentorship, etc.) to fill in missing tools (skills) in your toolbox.

Discuss your “liking” quadrant with your team and Manager and see if it is possible for you to take on more tasks/responsibilities falling in this category without deviating from your organizational goal. Be ready to take extra additional initiatives – it can’t be at the expense of your primary responsibility or deliveries that you are accountable for.

And then also discuss the “disliking” quadrant with your Manager. Who knows maybe it was never important for your Manager and the business for you to own or participate in tasks that you didn’t like to do. And if the task is critical enough for the business for you to continue doing, at least making it known to your Manager will make the situation better for you. May be it was one of your weaknesses that was making you dislike this task. And when you overcome that weakness, you may move out of your comfort zone and this particular item might move from your “disliking” quadrant to your “liking” quadrant.

Note: When I discussed the SWLD concept with one of my MBA friends, he pointed me to a similar concept, called Johari Window. The johari window is like a pie chart and it is divided into 4 sections, the open self, the hidden self, the blind self, and the unknown self. The whole point of the Johari window is to help you understand who you are. It is a communication model that can be used to improve understanding between individuals within a team or in a group setting. You may find many links on this when you do googling for it.

5 Minutes Self Analysis a Day Keeps Professional Diseases Away

How many hours do you spend daily at the Gym or Exercising or doing Yoga to keep you physically fit and healthy? When I asked around, I got responses varying from half an hour daily to as long as 2 hours a day. It’s great to see general awareness around physical health. But when it comes to Professional health, generally people tend to be lazy.

I urge you to spend 5 minutes daily in the evening/ after-hours (while relaxing on the back seat of your car while your driver is taking you back to your home, or while taking shower before going to bed, or whenever you can spare 5 minutes for your own self) to do self analysis – Rewind your day and think about how it went and where your Manager can help you.

Think about:
  1. Tasks that you feel you performed very well and you were satisfied/ happy after executing them. These are either your accomplishments/achievements, or your strengths or your likings. Your Manager should know about them.
  2. Tasks where you don’t really know how you performed because either requirements or the expectations were not clear to you. You need more clarification from your Manager for next iteration.
  3. Tasks where you know you didn’t perform your best, and you yourself were not satisfied with the output. These are your weaknesses. You need coaching/guidance from your Manager to do it better next time.
  4. Tasks that you didn’t really like performing. These are your disliking. You need to discuss them with your Manager.
  5. How well do you think you managed your time that day? Do you need your Manager’s help in doing better multi-tasking/ time management?
    • Did you spend too much time on not-so-important (according to you) tasks? Or, Did you not get enough time to spend on really important (according to you) tasks?
    • Did you complete all assigned tasks for the day? Did you work on additional tasks as well?
    • Did you come up with any new innovative idea/approach?
    • Did you learn anything new?
Now, put down 2-3 points in your diary and come with the complete weekly list in your weekly 1:1 with your Manager. This will create enough constructive and productive discussion agenda for the meeting. This will also help your Manager to help you better, and he would be able to take timely corrective actions.

This 5 minutes daily self analysis will also help you utilize your mySWLD matrix for your professional betterment. Tick all those entries in your “strengths” quadrant that correspond to the strengths/abilities which you were able to utilize while performing your assignments in this week. Tick those “weakness” entries which blocked you from showing your best in the assigned job. Similarly map your this week’s tasks to the “liking” and “disliking” quadrants of your mySWLD matrix. Now take this filled matrix to your Manager in your 1:1, and take his help on:
  • How your current/future responsibilities, tasks, ownerships, or the mode of execution can be planned/tweaked, so that not only your currently used strengths (ticked items in the “strengths” quadrant) but also your unused strengths (unticked items in the “strengths” quadrant) can be utilized.
  • How you can improve in the areas where your weakness is impacting your performance (ticked items in the “weakness” quadrant). This will lead to creation/updation of a training/coaching/development plan for you.
  • How you can come out of your comfort zones (some of ticked items in the “disliking” quadrant), and how you can take on additional tasks to pursue your liking/passion (some of unticked items in the “liking” quadrant) without deviating from your organizational goal.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine : For Managers

Management is not sexy - its a boring and routine job. Its also not an adorable role. A Manager is generally not perceived as an interesting or friendly figure. In the role of a “Project cum People Manager”, you mostly end up playing the role of a Bad cop. You are accountable for Results, you have to enforce Processes to achieve the Results, and, in between the “Result” and “Process”, your “Relationship” with your direct reports starts suffering damage.

A good Manager is the one who influences his team to attain desired objectives. He can get things done (through his team) today and tomorrow. He is collaborative, he is flexible, and he is receptive. He demonstrates that he cares about his team members – Engagement is the key to success. And to engage, he conducts regular 1:1s with his team members.

The 1:1s are a very structured format and framework for maintaining robust communication and strong relationship/bonding with your direct reports. Regular 1:1 (preferably 30 minutes every week) with your direct reports is one of the most effective management tools. It will keep you connected and informed. Remember that you control their organizational success and they’ll feel miserable if they think they are not getting enough of your time.

You may argue that you talk to your team members all the time; OR you don’t have enough time to have individual 1:1s with all of them; OR there won’t be enough agenda to discuss everyweek; OR this will be boring; OR etc. etc. But, as a Manager, investing your time in your people is one of the safest and most profitable investments you can ever make – low risk and high gains. When you start spending dedicated time for individual 1:1s, you’ll start receiving lesser unplanned interruptions and will actually have more time for Strategic thinking. You may think that there won’t be items to discuss in weekly 1:1s, but you will be surprised to receive Too Much Information from your direct reports. Also, just think about it - When you currently talk to them on daily (or hourly) basis, don’t you just talk about nuts and bolts of work? The purpose and focus of weekly 1:1 is different. It is (should always be) – Your Direct Report, His development/growth plan, his myTimeline, his mySWLD matrix, and, last but not the least, Establishing stronger relationship/bonding between the two of you.

Schedule in advance. Book 30 minutes weekly slot (avoid Monday morning and Friday evening slots). Design specific agenda for your 1:1s – 15 minutes for employee, 5 minutes for you, 10 minutes for future. Agenda should be result oriented and focused on things which are valuable for the Direct Report. Help him play his strengths (fill his “strengths” quadrant of mySWLD matrix), help him maximize the conversion ratio between his potential/abilities and his productive output, help him improve in the needed areas (empty his “weakness” quadrant of mySWLD matrix), help him get opportunity to contribute in his liking areas (address his “liking” & “disliking” quadrants of mySWLD matrix), and help him come out of his comfort zone. If you don’t know who your Direct Report is and what’s most important for him, you can’t inspire him because he won’t believe that you care about him. But if you can demonstrate that you care about him, he will do anything for you. He will become more loyal, more disciplined, more efficient and more effective.

Prepare for five minutes before the 1:1 starts. Ask yourself:
  1. Was there any action item for me from the last 1:1?
  2. What positive feedback can I give?
  3. What adjusting feedback am I going to give?
  4. What checkpoint(s) am I going to discuss against his quarterly goals?
  5. What is one thing “new” that I am going to coach/mentor/guide him on?
If you observe that your Direct Report is not interacting enough in the meeting (and the meeting is becoming more of a monologue/lecture/preaching than the desired two-way-communication/ interactive dialogue), you may encourage him to come prepared with the notes to take full advantage of this session. How? Encourage them to use the tool I have provided in my next blog, “5 Minutes Self Analysis a Day Keeps Professional Diseases Away”...