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Lead to Regenerate

How to apply principles of regeneration for self and organizational development

War for Talent

It needs talent to spot talent.  Next in the #JargonJungle series

There is a new war being waged in campuses today. It is called the ‘War for Talent’, undertaken by companies trying to get the cream of students onboard.

Teams heading to campuses for recruitment are like commandos — the HR heads and their support staff are the people running these war rooms. Their presentations combine powerful marketing pitches and high powered propaganda designed to bamboozle even the sharpest of minds being targeted. One would expect all this and more.

These ‘talented people’ constitute the prize catch of this war. One would expect the catch to be guarded with care bordering on paranoia.

“They told me that people like me were one out of every 50 short-listed from campuses of premier institutions. They said, ‘You (I) made it through our gruelling tests, group discussions, SOP (Statement of Purpose) filters, social media analytics and personal interviews. You should be proud’,” Vinaya had said in her exit interview, handled by an HR Consulting firm.

“When I walked into our office on my first day, I looked around proudly. No one noticed me. “Hey, I have arrived!” I felt like saying. I barged into one of the frosted glass cabins and announced myself. The woman there smiled knowingly, offered me a seat and helped me finish some formalities. She expected me to somehow come in precisely into that cabin and meet her.”

Vinaya’s cohort Sushant said in his exit interview, “They put me in a team without taking into account my interests. What’s the point in writing an SOP and defending it in the interview? I mentioned a lot of things which I have been doing even in my personal time to show them how serious I am about what I wish to do.”

The CEO of their company has been saying they must win the ‘War for Talent’ in order to sustain their success and growth. The company is trying hard to retain talent. In addition to compensation packages, it has also introduced facilities like generous work-from-home options, personal time offs for those unavoidable chores, and luxury buses for commuting.

Unfortunately, all this hasn’t helped — many from the ‘prize catch’ group leave within a year after joining. Many companies face similar problems in their ‘War for Talent’. But why?

Reasons they leave

There are many reasons for this.

One, these wars are being fought under the charge of HR. Using elaborate processes and technology for recruitment is necessary but it seems that they give an air of infallibility in spotting talent and ensuring a good match with the needs of companies.

Two, these wars must also be fought within, to retain, spot and nurture talent. Team leaders, technical and business managers must join this war. HR can’t do it alone.

Three, there should be clarity about what talent is and what the talented people are looking for.

Usually, companies rely on education and experience while selecting talent. Unfortunately, education and experience don’t solely determine a person’s performance, much less tell us anything about his/her potential.

Spotting the right fit

When we think of talent, we think of performance — dancing, singing, problem solving, coding… doing something well. But talent is also about innate potential. And this potential becomes visible though learning and practice.

While the environment must enable learning and practice, an individual needs to enjoy it sufficiently to overcome difficulties, tiredness, frustration and negativity, and reach a level of proficiency that is valuable to others.

Given all this, one can understand why truly talented people are:

~ Passionate about what they like doing

~ Restless

~ Evaluate themselves often

~ Take efforts to improve without being told to

~ Enjoy talking about the finer aspects of related performances (critical appreciation)

~ Don’t like to waste their time

~ Are willing to reach out to those who might help them improve

~ Want to take their talent to new situations and prove themselves all over again

~ Look for bigger reasons, like be part of a winning team or work for a worthy cause

When you need people for working on big projects or for developing complex products, they need to have critical and creative thinking abilities, the ability to summarise and expand, to define problems and build conceptual models, and the ability to frame and execute actions.

Their knowledge and experience can be useful only then. More importantly, the knowledge and experience won’t set limits to what they can achieve.

In conclusion

From the lost talent wars and based on anecdotal information about what goes on inside organisations, we can infer that most companies don’t do a good job of finding talent.

But it shouldn’t be that difficult. If you are like the people described above, you will recognise them. Talent recognises talent.

This ‘War for Talent’ can be won by spotting people with the qualities mentioned above and helping them realize their potential. It is your job to see how to use technology and alter your practices accordingly.

This article written by me as first published on bloncampus.com here

Design Thinking

Design thinking can make our lives better in small and big ways

(This article in #JargonJungle series was first published on bloncampus.com here )

In this era of start-ups, even established companies are rushing to bring new products to market to avoid being disrupted. There are companies that wish to capture value better before others do. All this calls not just for ideas, but also sustained efforts to actually develop and deliver newer and newer offerings, and solve problems in new ways. So, it is quite likely you will find yourself in situations like the ones mentioned below:

~~ You are in a team developing a medical product such a a Live Camera Monitor that shows images from tiny cameras (arthroscopy) inserted in a patient’s body. This product is used by surgeons and their attending staff, such as operating room nurses.

~~ You are in a team that is formed to solve drinking water shortage in a community in a remote village.

~~ You are working on a project to help artisans, such as textile weavers, develop products for urban markets.

~~ Your company is a start-up in the healthcare sector. Your mission is to dramatically improve healthcare for senior citizens. You aim to offer solutions to prevent injuries from falls and the need for difficult surgeries for senior citizens.

~~ Impressed with traditional cuisine in India because of its time-tested health benefits, youwant to develop recipes for food items such as pizzas and pastries, but with traditional Indian ingredients.

~~ Your company offers innovative enterprise solutions based on a sophisticated technology platform. You wish to communicate this to decision-makers who are not necessarily familiar with the technology.

~~ You eat, drink and sleep games. You wish to develop a computer or a mobile game yourself.

~~ You want to develop a solution for the continuous monitoring of a semiconductor chip fabrication plant. The plant has hundreds of motors, pumps, valves and other devices. Device failures are very costly and the expert manpower to diagnose and maintain them is rare, and expensive.

Products, services, experiences

How will you handle the kind of projects described above? How will the projects be conceived and planned? What kind of people would be needed? How will you collaborate? Many things need to come together for executing such a project. They are:

~~ Fresh thinking: You will agree that there is a need to break fresh ground. Even if you are familiar with the sector (for example, healthcare, gaming), you need to think afresh.

~~ Multi-disciplinary experts: You need people from various fields to come together with a common goal. The experts will also need to be ready for fresh-thinking.

~~ Goal: You need a statement that defines what you are going achieve at the end of the project. This can be a broad statement like “we will develop a suite of products to protect senior citizens from fall related injuries” or a more specific one, such as: “we will develop a hip protector for senior citizens”. Project brief detailing specifications, timelines, markets, budgets and the like, need to be developed from the get go.

~~ Project team and a leader: You need a core team of people who will work on the project from start to finish. You’ll need a leader who is not only a good thinker, but is also the one who encourages everyone to think and contribute. The leader must be a no-nonsense task master.

~~ Project philosophy: The project plan must be based on sound principles. It needs to address these questions. How will you define goals? How will you familiarise and empathise with users? How will you define problems? How will you ‘model’ various realities? How will you ideate solutions? How will you test the problem definitions as well as likely solutions? How will you assess and handle risks? How will you test-market and update the products? How will you communicate and collaborate? A project plan can be prepared based on answers to these questions.

Design Thinking

Design thinking, which involves the various iterations of empathising, generating ideas, prototyping, and testing, needs to occur at all stages of the above kind of projects. For example, a goal or problem definition can be improved using design thinking. One can do a few iterations involving multiple ways of defining the goal. A common mistake is to define goals influenced by what is obvious. One can miss huge opportunities for fresh thinking because of such mistakes. Design thinking can be applied to testing methods as well.

Design thinking need not be limited to creating a product or communication. Every team member needs to be reasonably comfortable with design thinking. Designers can help you with design thinking in addition to making their specialist contribution in research, problem definition, ideation, designing form or communications, prototyping and testing.

This need not be limited to big development projects like the ones mentioned above. It is useful, even in small projects, and need not be limited to designers.

What were they thinking?

Have you ever come across such situations? You notice that more than half the buttons on TV remote seem unnecessary. You have to squint and sprain your neck before you can read and adjust the cooling regulator in your fridge. Your WiFi router settings make you fret. You find it hard to recall how exactly you changed the line spacing in MS Word two days back or how it got changed.

You swipe your ATM card, enter PIN, choose language, punch some keys, choose savings or current account (why?), enter amount to withdraw and wait… only for it to tell you that you PIN was wrong, and forcing you to go through the steps all over again. Google Maps on your phone shows the road upside down no matter how much you shake it (that helpful compass needle isn’t there anymore after updates).

You fiddle with the door latch on your way out and it locks so securely that your host must step in. You try to turn the door knob and your fingers get hurt between the knob and the door frame. When coming down in an elevator, you are not sure of which button to press to get to the floor where you came in from because you now discover that there are buttons marked L, LL, P1, P2.

You can’t break the seal on a new LPG cylinder and, when you do, you are not sure if the new cylinder has been securely connected to your stove’s tube. You can’t make out which way the cylinder valve opens because the tiny arrows are embossed on black knob and they are just black lines on black.

The two pins of your phone charger don’t match with two holes in your electric socket. You are in a mobile application with your phone in one hand and an umbrella (or a sandwich) in the other, and you now need to touch those three dots diagonally across the screen from where you thumb is to unlock your phone or the application.

These are some minor irritants that have workarounds, and we can put up with them. But they do make you wonder, ‘What were they thinking?’ It’s obvious that what they were not thinking of was good design.

Design thinking is for everyone; it can make our lives better in small and big ways.

Going the extra mile with executive coaching

A good executive coach can help you learn faster, save opportunity costs. #JargonJungle

(This article written by me was first published on bloncampus.com here )

“I’ll coach you,” Martin, my senior colleague, told me.

I was in Germany at the time, preparing for an important sales negotiation to win a big project. The customer was a large multinational company, which had a complex decision-making structure.

The project was to be executed in India. The firm mandated that important engineering work must also be done in India so that long-term technical support, including changes and upgrades, could be provided locally.

When Martin said he would coach me, I didn’t pay much attention to the word ‘coaching’. I was hoping that he would help me, in some way, understand about what was expected. But it turned out that Martin would vanish without notice! This forced me to send him e-mails for help because calling him was difficult too. We did have a few meetings or face-time, as it is called these days, but even in those meetings, Martin would talk about his fascination for India and Indian food rather than the work at hand.

He would also say (teasingly) that my visit to Germany had robbed him of a chance to visit India. Martin made sure that he found enough time to take me around to places of interest in the city. But I was becoming impatient and fast losing interest in sight-seeing, dining, and socialising.

Only a rough plan

One day, sensing that I was at the end of my tether, he took me to his office and drew on paper a clean overview of the project and the areas in which the customer had faced problems in similar plants. He also wrote down some names, that might be of help to me. I lapped up all this eagerly.

But before I could ask questions, he was on his feet again, glancing at his wristwatch saying, “Sorry, I must rush or else I will miss my flight”.

The day of my return to India (and meeting the customer) was not too far off. I had worked out a rough plan, gathering more information on the hints he had provided, and set about fixing my appointments. I worked myself into a frenzy.

I prepared a nice dossier on the project that I would use to handle my part of the negotiation. I even forgot to call Martin during this time — I missed his calls.

He arrived a day before my departure. For 30 minutes, I described to him my understanding and plan for the negotiations. “Good job,” he said. I could see that he was very pleased. “See you in Mumbai, soon”, he said.

And that’s when it hit me. Without using a word to define ‘coaching’, Martin showed me what the word actually meant.

The differences

Executive coaching is not the same as teaching. There are differences.

~ A coach allows you figure out what will be of help. A teacher tells or shows.

~ A coach ‘observes’ you at work. In teaching, you ‘observe’ the teacher.

~ A coach asks you questions or provides clues to promote investigation and reflection. A teacher provides answers.

~ A coach suggests. A teacher prescribes.

Athletes and sportspersons depend heavily on coaching to improve their performance. While many leaders of top companies take the help of executive coaches, the use of coaching to improve individual or team performance is not all that common among managers. Attending training programmes still seems to be the favourite method.

Eligibilities

Coaching is not as widespread as training because a learner must be highly motivated to get the best of a coach, and vice-versa. The success of coaching critically depends on the healthy tension between a coach and a learner, who ‘challenge’ each other, drawing out the best.

This requires a learner to remain committed for a long time to achieve improvements. It isn’t just a three-day or a three-week affair — not every executive is willing to go through the rigours that coaching demands.

Talented people who aim for higher performance seek out coaches, but it is difficult to find a capable executive coach — ‘observing’ managerial work presents its own set of challenges.

As the effects of managerial actions are seen only after a while, a coach must cover the many facets of management and leadership focusing on fundamental drivers.

A good executive coach can thus save a lot of your time and wasted opportunities, as long as you trust him or her and are willing to go the distance in changing the way you think, in any operational aspect of your business.

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