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April 26, 2006

Workplace infrastructure - whats that got to do with motivation?

Is workplace infrastructure changing from a hygiene factor to a motivator?

This is the question that first came to my find as I toured Googleplex - complete with its volley ball courts, massage parlours, electric scooters to commute between buildings...and other what-have-yous.

While the answer is definitely not of a "yes-no" type - I do have some thoughts on the changing nature of workplace infrastracture:

  • Workplace infrastructure is increasingly seen as an extension of the culture that your provide to your employees. And its not always the simplistic - "bright colours mean vibrant environments", or "cubicleless office = no heirarchy". These ofcourse maybe more straightforward derivations based on what you see, and they may also be turn out to be true. What i mean by workplace infrastructure is the complete package that you provide to your employees, which are aimed at ensuring that he gets taken care of - both as a professional and as a person. And it is often clubbed along with the various other benefits to attract prospective employees.
  • Having said that, mere provision of the infrastructure is not always indicative of commitment or care. Your organization has a gym - but your job never leaves you the time to work out, or your manager has an irritating habit of calling you when you are on your "volley-ball break" - so how much work-life balance is that? And thats why, the link between infrastructure and culture - while it is very much there - is not always direct, as culture runs more deep.
  • Maybe Im wierd - but too many in-house facilities make me feel the company is not going to give me much time off work. Talk about unintended consequences of actions. The first though that crossed my mind when I saw the Google "massage parlours" - "Yeah sure! Might as well..if they're going to stress me out as much!

So....in the final analysis - Would I leave an organization because the quality of the food in the cafeteria sucks? Obviously not! Would I be motivated to join an organization that "demonstrates" its commitment to me as a complete individual? Yes! And if at the end of the day, I still havent used the gym, I'll blame that on my poor time management skills! Read this lovely post on worklife balance and time management

April 19, 2006

My blog has been ransacked!

I know I am possessive by nature. They say its a Scorpion trait. But this time its has nothing to do with Linda Goodman.

The culprit is here. This person whose profile display says "Recruitment Executive" has done a cold blooded cut and paste of my post "Why Retention is Always Tomorrow's task" in his blog here, exactly three days after I posted it. No links, no credits - either to my own posts, or to the articles I had linked to in mine. Everything, even the title has been copied - as if the blogger has said it all himself! Needless to say, I am shocked!

And how did I discover this? Through this tool - in which I initially typed in my URL just for a lark! Thanks Shilpa - for blogging about this.

So readers...you know what you have to do next right?

And to my dear Ctrl C Ctrl V friend - This world is a very small place, much smaller than you can imagine. And you say you are in the recruiting profession? You should know better than anyone else - what goes around, comes around!

April 17, 2006

Matchmaker Matchmaker...make me a match

The headline - Indian headhunters use "speed dating" to meet job demand - got me excited. The content didnt - coz it turned out that we were using a new name to describe the old trend of recruitment fairs and on-the spot offers.

But yes, arguably so, there are some common trends that both the job market and the marriage market are seeing-
  • Inadequacy / failure of traditional modes, leading to a stress on continous innovation
  • Increased expectations from both parties
  • Need to provide specialised services to different target segments

Having said that though...I hope the twain never meet......coz I would take a lot more risk as far as a candidate is concerned!

April 15, 2006

The Waiter Principle

Came across this link via BusinessPundit - on how you can tell a lot about a person's character by the way he treats the waiter - ("waiter" being a metaphor for "anyone who means nothing to you")

Some classic situations in organizations where “character” is displayed:

Employee behaviour during notice period: One of my favorites as far as getting a flavour of the "real" thing. It’s interesting to see the mild turn acerbic and the fence-sitters become highly opinionated over-night. Surely an act of handing in a piece of paper cannot drastically alter your personality? That the same organization which you were part of till yesterday suddenly becomes this ogre that you would not touch with a barge pole today?
I guess it requires “character” to say “I came here by choice”, and “I’m leaving by choice”

Treatment of candidates / prospective employees: Much has been said about that here. Indeed the “hiring experience” that we talk about is nothing but how we get treated when we are one of the many.

Vending machine discussions: How and what you say in an informal chat is as important as how you would raise the issue in a formal discussion. Yes, the tone and language may loosen a little bit, but your stand does not. People give far too much of their hypocrisy away in their flip-flop between coffee machine and boardroom.

How the manager handles the performance discussion with his team member: Defensiveness, blame, lack of ownership - are all the low hanging fruits which we reach out to when we are in difficult situations. And, a performance review is definitely one such situation for a manager. Explaining to your team member why his performance was not upto the mark despite the long hours he put in, why he got the rating / increment he did, why his colleague got promoted, are all very “sticky” issues right? Wrong. I think where we fail is that we get into these discussions without adequate data. And then give all the wrong reasons. These discussions require as much (maybe more) homework on the part of the manager, but then who really has the time for that? And then again, “homework” would be so “out-of-character" right?

Without doubt ‘character’ is what gives you brilliance and makes you a great human being. And yet, you will never find it when you go looking for it, because, as some one said - “real” character is doing the right thing when no one is looking. So much for impression management.

April 11, 2006

Dear HR Manager....


I wish you would tell me more of "hows" than "whats"

I wish you knew my team well enough to help me with their development plan

I wish you were more transparent about the "salary - fixing" process

I wish you would provide feedback to all candidates within a reasonable time frame

I wish you wouldnt undertake another employee satisfaction survey without letting me know what the previous did.

I wish you wouldnt tell me "We have chosen to stay out of the salary race"

I wish you had less forms

I wish your screens had less mandatory fields

I wish you would stop scheduling trainings / meetings on month-ends

...and yes...I wish you and I would stop making wishlists and start talking!

April 10, 2006

Dear Line Manager......


I wish you would be willing to take more hiring risks

I wish you would pay as much attention to "presenteeism" as you paid to absenteeism

I wish you wouldnt tell me all your requirements are "immediate", only to completely forget about the resumes I sent you the next day

I wish you wouldnt attribute every resignation in your team to "better salary"

I wish you wouldnt tell your team member - "I didnt give you that increment, HR did"

I wish you wouldnt tell me - " I lost five people in two months...what are you doing about it?"

I wish you wouldnt blame all your problems on inadequate staffing

I wish the "guys" i hired on almost impossible deadlines would'nt come a month later and ask me "Ma,am what was the hurry to get me here?"

I wish your once "perfect candidate" didnt become an "over-rated employee" when he joined competition

...........and I wish it wasnt always about "you" and "me"!

April 06, 2006

A lighter look at culture and work ethic

There are many extremely "writable" things about Oman, one of which is it's work ethic - which heavily draws from the culture surrounding it. From revealing to amusing to endearing - I present it the way I've experienced it - unedited, and replete with my blinding prejudices!

Quit being fussy!
To start with, I was always amazed at the straight face with which every person (be it the taxi driver, your car cleaner, or your co-worker) asked you your salary. When my initial shock gave way to acceptance of the fact that “it is like that only” – I would pretend as if I haven’t heard. But that became difficult to carry on because the words would then be more purposefully and deliberately thrust onto your face - “How much do you earn?” “Very little”, I then started saying, with a sad face. But I dropped even that line, when a taxi driver asked me in response whether that was because I hadn’t studied beyond high school! So now I say – you guess?? And then go along with whatever his guess is!

Boundarlylessness please...if you may?
All God’s creations are to be valued. All man’s creations are but a meek attempt to reaffirm your existence as a divine instrument. Or something as ambiguous as that, i think. So boundaries, hierarchies, processes exist only to create employment opportunities and provide fertility to the barrenness of the soul. An escalation process? You mean like the ones in those multi-storeyed malls which my children fear to climb onto? Ok..this was a “heightened” (pun intended) exaggeration. But the spirit of "seamlessness" does burst your seams when your planned day is intermittent with random stuff that were never meant for you in the first place. Or that would never need to come to you if the process was followed.

We are all God’s children
I’ve never felt so bonded / “related” even in family weddings – every other person adopts you as his / her “sister” or “daughter” – and there you go! That’s the beginning of many concessions that he would want you to make for him! And how much can you do in the name of "love for the family?"

If I really peel off the part that is amusing and light hearted, I think what touches me most about this culture is its unpretensiousness. Back home, there are too many trappings that we get caught in - and sometimes we need to go through extensive de-layering to recognize an individual for what he really is.
On the flip side of course, unpretentiousness also calls for a misplaced emphasis on simplicity, when the situation calls for a slightly more complex analysis (I know I’m being very kind in using these words). As individuals and corporates struggle to synthesize paradoxes, this simplicity would be rudimentary and obstructive to growth

I also struggle with fatalism brought into decision making situations (be they tactical or strategic), exemplified by stances such as “it will happen, God willing”. I mean….I also “prayed”…..every Wednesday morning…when TIMES ASCENT hit the stands – “Dear God – let this ad create the magic that I so desperately need this month!”…..BUT!
Initially, I would pass off these stances as nothing more than casual remarks – but I think it is much more deep-rooted than that, deriving from a total belief in a third entity – call it God, call it destiny / fate / luck. I too am i believer– but I rarely (actually never) use my belief as a cushion that will make my fall hurt less, and these ones particularly are a bit too soft for my comfort. Give me the hurt any day.

But then that’s the thing about culture right – if I start using my frames of reference, I will ALWAYS make judgements. For example, who decides that it is not appropriate to ask or answer questions relating to one’s salary? If you ask me, it’s grown out of our own refusal to engage with inequities which will most definitely remain in the system. And this slowly acquired connotations of “etiquette”, “personal space”, and the likes. So its ok to ask questions on marital status and family background because that’s not personal? Highly debatable – all these things. Here is a culture that is less fussier about acknowledging these inequities. Does that make them socially naïve? (As an aside – in any case, all employees have a standing joke about their colleagues' / boss' salaries, which is – “I won’t ask you, coz I already know!)

And so..as Gautam beautifully put it in a comment on one of my previous posts - "When faced with a divergence, its not about leaving a path, but about continuing a journey." Amen to that.

April 03, 2006

Why retention is always "tomorrow's task"

My brain is forever looking for connections - and thats why when I read "Marketplace of Perceptions", which explains why we procrastinate, I couldnt help think that the arguement definitely holds some water here - whether the author talks about procrastinating retention strategies.

Quoting behavioural economist David Laibson from Marketplace of Perceptions -

“There’s a fundamental tension, in humans and other animals, between seizing available rewards in the present, and being patient for rewards in the future,” he says. “It’s radically important. People very robustly want instant gratification right now, and want to be patient in the future. If you ask people, ‘Which do you want right now, fruit or chocolate?’ they say, ‘Chocolate!’ But if you ask, ‘Which one a week from now?’ they will say, ‘Fruit.’

Can we say that in HR terminology, that would translate as – Recruitment? Now!...Retention – Tomorrow? So recruitment remains a “current hot topic,” while retention becomes a “future hot topic”.

Why so?

Laibson offers a mathematical explanation -

Consider a project like starting an exercise program, which entails, say, an immediate cost of six units of value, but will produce a delayed benefit of eight units. That’s a net gain of two units, “but it ignores the human tendency to devalue the future,” Laibson says. If future events have perhaps half the value of present ones, then the eight units become only four, and starting an exercise program today means a net loss of two units (six minus four). So we don’t want to start exercising today. On the other hand, starting tomorrow devalues both the cost and the benefit by half (to three and four units, respectively), resulting in a net gain of one unit from exercising. Hence, everyone is enthusiastic about going to the gym tomorrow."

So there is a gain in procrastination because what we start tomorrow will always have more value than what we start today, given our tendency to discount the future. And this especially seems to apply to acts which have an outcome in the "future" as opposed to "now"

Let me try and apply that back to our recruitment-retention issue.

What is the first thought that crosses our mind when our team member leaves? Who is going to replace him? (If you didn’t think that – you are probably a little ahead of this post!) And after that, we ask (if at all!)“How do I make sure the others don’t leave?”

Why so?

Maybe because – "getting a replacement" is an act in the “here and now” that gives us an immediate reward, while "making sure the others don’t leave" is of the “to-do list” variety, a more hazier proposition which we will crystallize tomorrow? Even though we know fully well that the cost of a new hire far exceeds the cost of retention efforts? Yes...and thats why behavioural economists say rational thought cannot always explain decision making.

So how do we solve this?

Two things that come to my mind -

Increasing the knowledge of "how"
Irrationalilty would mean refusal to see reason despite facts pointing to the same. Personally, I believe that in the case of retention, it is less to do with “refusal” and more to do with “ignorance of how”. Every manager “intends” to retain, but struggles with “how to”. Its like this – if a manager wants to get a replacement – he knows what to do – he will call up his recruitment manager, give the job specs, and the next day – he has five resumes in his inbox. He shortlists profiles, interviews them, the offer is made, and there!you have the person on board. It’s a concrete process, visible to one and all.
But if he wants to retain his people – does he see a similar concrete “how-to” process? Yes - he sends encouraging messages, takes his team out for lunches, and make sure they work don’t work weekends. But there is more to it right? Does he know what spaces his team members’ value? Does he know how to provide for them? Does he know how to work on a personal retention plan for each of his team members? Does he know if the organization can support him in that?
And when we don’t “know” we don’t act.........we procrastinate.

“Priming” to retain
I believe we are all “primed” to recruit, not retain. Think about it. How often do you send recruitment updates? Weekly? Daily? Hourly? How often do you send attrition reports? At best monthly? At worst….i dread to think? Do you know your source mix for this month’s recruitment? Yes ofcourse – “XYZ” consultant has given me the best results. Do you know your source mix for this month’s attrition figures? That I'll have to check. Hmm…. Whose scorecard really has a retention parameter that receives a “significant” weightage in the appraisal? Does your “off-shoring” (i can't remember where I first read this term!) process receive as much hype and attention as your “on-boarding” process? I have seen so many individuals whose conviction to leave gets strengthened only because of the treatment meted out to “employees serving notice”. What if we were to think of ways in which to “weaken” these convictions, even after an employee has resigned? So that even if he doesn’t stay, he might come back to join us at a later date?

In asking these questions, I am not talking about individual acts of good / bad (they may count for the situation) – I’m talking about the system as a whole, the way it works – IT IS JUST NOT PRIMED TO RETAIN.

And carrying out that shift will involve linking every single act of everyone of us to the goal of “making the employee stay”. Every decision that we make, every policy that we frame, every metric that we design should indicate how it contributes to this goal. And, most importantly, our processes should track it.

To conclude – if retention is everyone’s business – then lets provide the wherewithal to run it.

April 01, 2006

Of Pets and Peeves

I thought only Ivan Pavlov used dogs to make a point about human behaviour!

This "and" that..

Increasingly, the one competency that is emerging as most important seems to be the ability to manage contradictions.

How do I remain
creative while adopting the “best practice” approach? (read post titled Avoid Best Practices)
How can my employer claim to allow work life balance if he wants to remain connected with me at all times?
How do I share my learnings when I see indispensability being valued?

I think this involves reworking some fundamental connections that we have made. Understanding that the opposite of team is not the individual. That stability does not preclude change. That quantity is never at the cost of quality. We start to see the power of the “and” over the “either or”. And acknowledge that two seemingly opposite forces can co-exist. Otherwise, we will end up behaving like the rats in Skinners box, acting only for the rewards.