Engage Energize Evolve

March 30, 2006

Thinking out of the (tiffin) box!

Management lessons from Mumbai's much famed dhabbawallahs -

* They rely on low capital and use cycles, wooden carriages and local trains to achieve their target.
* There are several groups that work independently and network with each other to achieve one goal.
* They meet once a month where all the groups gather and thrash out issues.
* There is no retirement age. People work as long as they want to.
* Since their lifestyle is simple and involves a lot of physical exercise, they rarely suffer from illnesses.
* The dabbawallas have a credit society which gets them through money crunches.
* Being ‘annadattas’ they are automatically treated with respect.

Seems like a lot can be achieved by keeping processes simple & staying well connected!

March 28, 2006

The clash of the Tattoos

...is happening here

If you ask me, at the end of the day, I’d be better off hiring a person who wears a tattoo below his sleeve rather than an attitude over it!

Minding your Ps & Qs

Ok. So you throw tantrums at your dinner table every night. Make a fuss about whats cooked, talk endlessly over the phone while chomping loudly on your morsels, refuse to pass the bowls, and spill water over the table. How disgusting! Someone's going to have to teach you how to behave!

Hmm...so microinequities it is. I like the term. For one, its clinical feel cleverly conceals the hurt, the insult, the anger that inevitably follow it. And ofcourse, the less touchy-feely and more business-like the term, the more palatable it is in our conference rooms right?

And while we are at it- how about something on microinequities against prospective employees?

>> Keeping candidates waiting for hours to do that interview?
>> Attending to phone calls and mails while interviewing?
>> Not knowing the job specs of the position you are interviewing for?
>> Calling candidates for endless interview rounds because few people can’t sit around the table and arrive at a decision?
>> During the interview, asking downright offensive questions like“Why should I hire you?” (I’m sure there’s a better way of asking “how can you value add to the job / organization”)

What....did I just hear you say that you need a metric to evaluate the impact of these changed behaviours?

March 26, 2006

Impacting Employee Spaces

This line of thought is triggered by this excellent post on Connectivism Blog.

While the post may be central to learning ecologies – the author makes a point that may well be a universal truth for organizations – “Learners want control of their space. They want to create the ecology in which they function and learn.”

A lot of our interventions in HR essentially impinge on “employee spaces” – be they temporal, physical, social, or cerebral. The key thing here is – do we allow them to “access / manage” this space or “control” it?

Take work-life balance for example, which is about physical & temporal spaces. Helping employees “manage” this space, would mean on-site gyms, concierge services, onsite day care centers for working mothers, etc., basically anything to help them manage their time more effectively. But giving employees “control” over this space mean taking a bigger leap- telecommuting, sabbaticals, flexi time opportunities, etc.

Ditto for retention, which is largely about temporal spaces. If we shifted the focus from manage to control, we would be asking, as Bruce Tulgan says

“How do I maintain good working relationships with the best people throughout their working lives”
and not “How do I retain employees as long term, exclusive, full time, onsite employees with uninterrupted service”

Location, length / duration of service, type of employment – the all standard parameters for measuring retention would not count. What would matter, as the article says, is your ability to “access talent when you need it.” It’s no longer about ensuring that the employee remains employed with you on a full time basis – instead its about keeping the relationship with the employee alive through altermate channels. Continuity of employment gets replaced by flexibility of employment. The employee has greater control over his space.

Then there are interventions for cerebral spaces. Increase in job size, increase in span of control, profit center responsibility, autonomy of functioning, involvement in goal setting, participatory decision making – all give the employee varying degrees of control over his cerebral space. Some allow him to manage within set boundaries, some allow to create his own boundaries.

So, is greater control over space necessarily a better thing?

I think that’s a wrong question. What would instead help is an understanding of how our interventions interact in each of these spaces and produce consequences that may be desirable or undesirable. Profit center responsibility or increase in job size, may give greater control over cerebral space, but may impinge about the employee’s physical or temporal space. Similarly, telecommuting may give the employee control over his physical and temporal spaces, but what about his social space? Sharing of ideas, working with people, leading a team? And continuing this line of thought – not all employees want control over all these spaces at all points of time. Well, obviously not – you would say. So then – what spaces do our employees want to control at what points of time in their careers? And how we provide for that? These are the questions that we need to answer.

March 23, 2006

Blink! Blink!

Seen in a filled candidate application form -

Current Employer Name: SG Industries Ltd
Position Held – Commercial Planning Supervisor
Duration of service – 9:00 a.m – 6:00 pm


Domestic Violence – Expensive for your Employer?

So we finally we have a business case against domestic violence and government led initiatives to address the problem individually and collectively at a corporate level.

Reading this, I was reminded of the time when I was trying to put together a counseling service for employees, where employees could talk to mental health professionals on any problem that was negatively impacting their functioning at work – personal or professional. We ran some focus groups to assess responses to the idea – and the following demands emerged very strongly

>> Anonymity – No one, not even HR should know that we approached a counselor (Glad they didn’t say no one, ESPECIALLY NOT HR, should know”)

>> Confidentiality –“ My boss should not know, else it will affect my rating”

>> Location – “It should be offered outside office premises – I don’t want my friends seeing me come out of the counselor’s room”

Which is why, when
Uzma Hamid, the corporate social responsibility team manager at KPMG, says –

"We are linking it with performance management, so managers can be aware if they are having problems with people's performance, it [domestic violence] manifests itself through productivity"

…….I have my doubts on how soon we can get there in India.

But then she also says this on domestic violence–

"I was very surprised that no-one came back and said 'this is not the kind of thing that happens here',"

And i think that’s a big indicator of how silent we have all been about this, like we were about this until now.

So let’s get people talking first.

I fix matches...between people and organizations!

In the movie Lamhe, Vinod Khanna, who runs a travel agency, explains to Sridevi, a prospective candidate for employment, the nature of his business. “We are a travel agency,” he says. “Oh – so you make real the dreams that people have, is it?” asks Sridevi. Very filmy, I agree. But it got me thinking. About how people describe their jobs. And whether that has any telling on their engagement levels at work. I would think it does.

In one of my stints in training and development, I conducted an intervention on a group of people who belonged to a particular line of business. I did an exercise where each one was asked to describe their jobs in one line. All kinds of descriptions came up. “Logging queries, closing transactions, responding to follow ups….basically activities. Not once did the word “customer” figure. And this was the team that worked three shifts to provide online support to customers in a different time zone. It was not surprising that they had productivity issues.

This probably also explains why the passion that recruiting firms have about recruitment is not so readily shared by recruitment professionals in corporates. After all, the recruiter gets to “see” the difference that he may have made to the career of a candidate, and even to the client organization, for that matter. Recruitment professionals in corporates on the other hand are too bogged down by the transactions (fixing salaries, generating letters, completing the background checks, etc) to see any “real” impact.

I think asking for a one line job description from a role holder is a potentially powerful tool, and can be used as a quick starting point of organizational diagnosis. The exclusions, the inclusions, the choice of words, the terminology used – all give you an insight into how the person perceives his job and his own sense of connect with it. Most people who feel positive about their jobs are those who are able to see where it fits in the larger picture. They are able to see how it impacts another person / entity / process – and this gives them a sense of meaning and thereby satisfaction.

Does this mean that strengthening the connect / or helping people change their descriptions of their job will increase engagement levels? Well, only marginally so. The final win will only happen if our evaluation metrics support this change. Which means that if at the end of the day, I am appraised for the number of positions I closed within turnaround time and the number of error free letters that I generated, recruitment for me will continue to remain a transaction. But ask me how many of those I recruited had atleast a 75% fit with the job, how many were on the fast track, and how many attrited..….that might get me thinking.