Why We Need Moms to Build Our Leadership Pipeline

In my article The Road not Taken: Becoming a Full-time Mum Made Me a Better Leader, I shared my challenges as a working mother with young children. While in one article, I talked about how women can empower themselves to be considered on equal terms with men, in another I discussed the ways in which we could make our workplace more women-friendly.

In this article I would like to address a significant chunk of leadership talent that remains sadly neglected, untapped, and worse, gets rejected for corporate roles. I am talking about stay-at-home mothers who seek a corporate career during the prime of their lives.

No Takers for Moms

In several parts of the world, especially India, the responsibility of managing a home and taking care of children, falls primarily on the woman’s shoulders. Much as she would love to take up a job, she is constrained for various reasons ranging from taking care of growing children, providing care to the elderly, or relocating and adapting to newer environments. The latter is true for women whose spouses are free to seek opportunities in other cities. By the time the children are old enough, these women are in their late thirties or early forties. Age discrimination being a huge factor, at least in India, these women get criminally side-lined.

One of my friends was unfortunately widowed after 15 years of marriage. She was a fulltime home-maker and mother, and had no option but to seek a fulltime job to secure the future of her two children. She has been unsuccessful in getting permanent employment in the company where she works as a contract staff, despite being far more productive and grossly underpaid than her permanently employed peers. Her stint as a home-maker and mother has been completely disregarded, and she is being paid lower than a fresher. Moreover, she is unsure of who to approach within the organization for long-term opportunities. My friend is just one example. There are millions of women in India who are educated, enterprising, and smart, but motherhood seems to be a huge setback for them.

Mothers are Leaders

Be it the Big 5 or Strengths Finder or DISC, organizations already have an arsenal of leadership behavioural assessment tools at their disposal. Whichever way we look at it, women who have managed homes and families successfully, can easily score well on certain basic leadership competencies, which we struggle so hard to find these days.

Moms Understand the Big Picture

It is mistakenly assumed that mothers deal with routine stuff. On the contrary, mothers are expert strategists. They set long-term financial, well-being, and personal goals for the family. Besides, they are great at breaking down these goals into actions. Perhaps the most important thing they do is lend their unstinting support to every member of the family and help them achieve their goals. Mothers are also experts in keeping their ears to the ground. They are well informed about everything important that counts. Everyone knows that Mother Knows Best.

When I was a fulltime mother, one of my goals was to ensure my children took responsibility for their studies and future. I did not want to chase them or nag them about their homework. It was tough and took loads of patience and hours of listening, but eventually I am happy to say that my daughters not only excel in their academics, they are also well-read and tuned into larger causes that plague our world today.

Moms Always Find a Way

A child with an earache? Short strapped for funds? Car broke down on the freeway? A mother has to use her resources to find a solution. One of my friends talked about how she was leaving for the airport as she needed to attend this conference. Just as she was all dressed and about to leave, one of her kids threw up. He was sick and needed immediate attention. She couldn’t just leave him like that. She contacted her office and cancelled the flight. She then asked her associate to fill in the first two hours for her. She spent the next few minutes calming her child and tending to him. She then got her associate to connect her to the conference via Skype. She did a great pitch and they got the deal.
Mothers have to be enterprising problem-solvers, and make the most of every situation. No wonder we have so many successful women entrepreneurs.

Moms Are Emotionally Intelligent

In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman says: “Self-awareness is the first component of emotional intelligence—which makes sense when one considers that the Delphic oracle gave the advice to “know thyself” thousands of years ago. Self-awareness means having a deep understanding of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives.”

A typical mother’s day is fraught with unexpected situations and crises. A child hurts himself and needs immediate attention, a demanding relative tests your patience, appliances conk off during the eleventh hour, the husband needs to leave for office in the next 10 minutes, and your older child needs to get ready for school.

As mothers, we constantly question our ability to serve others. We micro-analyze every situation and reflect on what could be the best way to deal with tough situations with peace and harmony. As a mother, there were days when I wanted to shout and throw a tantrum, but I had to practice deep breathing and ask myself, “What is the best way to deal with this?” Initially, there were those days when a good crying jag or screaming fit would do me in, but when I realized the adverse effects of these on my kids, I resorted to singing while cooking to help me burn off the negative energy. Mothers always find constructive and harmonious ways to tune off negativity as they are conscious about their actions and the consequences thereof.

Moms Know How to Deal with Difficult Behaviour

A hard-nosed boss, a demanding client, a difficult team-member have one thing in common. They have the advantage. We need their cooperation and need to find a way to deal with their challenging behaviour. Who better than a mother when it comes to dealing with conflict?

Whether it is adapting to a different family (most women in India live with their parents-in-law), getting a child to eat his vegetables, or dealing with conflicts, a mother faces it all constantly. Persuasive communication, negotiation, diplomacy, or assertive speaking – a mother needs to use all these skills on a daily basis.

Moms Stand Up For Their People

A father might seem all brawny and muscular but it is the mother’s steely determination and unconditional care and nurturing that truly makes a family strong and emotionally resilient. Today when we have employees leaving in large droves because of an unsupportive or uncaring supervisor, we need leaders who nurture their teams and stand up for them. Emotional support and emotional security is always assured with mothers at the helm. Mothers are also great fighters, especially when it comes to any crisis that looms ahead. Moreover, they stand calm and stable during the toughest of times.

Towards Opti-mum Leadership!

A growing number of small and mid-sized companies are investing efforts in building comeback careers for women. “Womentrepreneur” is in fact, a hot new buzzword making waves in the e-commerce scenario. Think Zivame, Infibeam, Limeroad, and Yatra. These are but a few examples of women who turned their ideas into money-spinners. Imagine having women like these in your organization as leaders.

I not only know that full-time mothers have the ability to take on technology roles, but also firmly believe they have the capability to become strong leaders. Most companies already have a talent management strategy in place to develop future leaders. Why not hire mothers and groom them as future leaders? It can be argued that women who have been out of touch as far as employment is concerned, will take a while to get their bearings in the wide wicked corporate world. However since they already possess the intrinsic leadership qualities thanks to their experience as fulltime mothers, they would just need a while to get acclimatized to the rules of the game. My sister-in-law started her own successful corporate recruitment business after 20 years of being a fulltime mother. She is a shining example of how women can make it big not despite being mothers, but because they are mothers.

Isn’t it ironic that we celebrate Mother’s Day with pride, but do little for mothers who seek an equal footing in the corporate world despite being immensely talented?

Misfits: Why We Need Them!

blacksheep

“I don’t feel like working here anymore. I feel so stifled and out of place!” cried my client who called up to seek career advice. She had been working for this reputed company for three years. While there was nothing principally wrong about the place, she felt claustrophobic. This lady is known for her cheerful outlook and a whacky sense of humour. However I have always known her to be an exemplary performer and a go-getter. Apparently her co-workers find her overwhelming and her boss has on more than one occasion, asked her to tone down her enthusiasm and “calm down”.

We are born free. And then fettered by bonds of compliance, obedience, and subservience, so much so that we dare not be different. The few, who dare to be different, are penalized or worse, ridiculed. Even in kindergarten, we are taught to color inside the lines, and are reprimanded for daring to color outside!

Unfit or a Misfit?

I felt like a misfit for the first time when I attempted to resume work after a long break. While applying for jobs I was told, “You are too senior!” The truth as I realized was, that I was overqualified for the job in question. Thereafter I was declared a misfit (indirectly albeit!) on more than one occasion. I was either inadequately qualified (not an MBA) despite my years of experience, or overly experienced, or too old for a position.

I remember having a healthy debate on this topic many years ago with one of my bosses when I wanted to hire a trainer. I found the candidate quiet and understated and his answers very forthright and earnest. I felt he would be an ideal fit for one of our training centres that was plagued by attrition. My boss however had another opinion. He felt that the candidate lacked ambition and therefore would be a misfit in a team of strong and dynamic trainers. I stuck to my guns and requested my boss to trust my instinct. Sure enough over the months when the centre lost some of their star performers, this individual emerged as one of the most solid and dependable players who helped the centre weather the toughest of times.

The question we really need to ask while hiring is, “Is this candidate Unfit for the role, or a Misfit with respect to what we usually look for?” It’s one thing to reject someone who lacks the necessary vital skills for a position, but another when their profile or personality is perceived beyond the norm. I have had my share of hiring blunders where I hired “different” people who more than shook up the still waters in my team, but I have never regretted it! They have always left behind a legacy of “out-of-the-box” thinking and creative ideas in their wake, even those who lasted for less than six months.

The Round Pegs in a Square Hole

There are plenty of examples of misfits from The Ugly Duckling, to Mumble the tap-dancing penguin from the movie Happy Feet, or even Santa’s legendary Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. They are ridiculed because they are different from their ilk. I remember a coworker who was at least 10 years older in a team of 20-somethings. To her credit she did her best to mingle but I remember a distinct sense of awkwardness her team lead felt in interacting with her. The team lead was palpably relieved when this employee resigned. I guess this happens to most women who resume jobs after a substantial break. We either report to managers younger than us, or become part of a younger team that just doesn’t know how to freely interact with us.

One of my clients-in-coaching hailed from a different state of India and did not know to speak Hindi very well. He felt excluded from the rest of the team because they cracked jokes in Hindi and he did not understand them. At the end of our session he came up with an idea to organize a team outing where he planned various activities and games to help the team get to know one another informally. During our next session, he sounded delighted about the outcome of the activity. Apparently he was learning to speak Hindi from his colleagues while he was teaching them his native language! More so, his manager started taking notice of him and started appreciating him.

Why are we wary of misfits?

Right from the time we start schooling we are taught to discriminate and comply. How many of us remember alienating or ostracizing that one kid who seemed different from us? How about those with a learning disorder or speech impediment or an unusual personality or physical appearance? Why are we judgmental towards those we perceive as “eccentric”? Why do we reject misfits?

We are uncomfortable around them

We are so comfortably used to interacting with a certain profile of people that we feel out-of-depth while dealing with a different type. It is easier to reject a candidate who seems different from the rest of the team than taking the trouble to accept and understand her.

We don’t want to change status quo

I remember a senior leader asking me to reject a candidate because she seemed overqualified when compared to the team. He felt having her in the team will disrupt the balance and make others insecure.

We are afraid of their outlandish and rebellious ideas

I firmly believe that startup teams need more mavericks who can find their way and get things done among the haziness and disorder. However, mavericks are not necessarily considered nice people! Their tendency to break rules causes others to perceive them as overly ambitious, rebellious, and selfish. Then there are people who question everything around them such as policies, processes, or methods. They make the rest of the compliant population nervous.

We are envious of them

Aha! What’s the real reason we reject some smart candidates? This happened to me as a hiring manager when I wanted to hire a team lead. I found one candidate particularly smart and more qualified than me. My first instinct was to reject him as I felt he had a superior attitude. The fact was, I felt threatened by him and mistook his self-confidence for superiority. I finally hired him as I realized he would be the best person who might help me achieve the goals for the team. Everything in the team changed for the better after that. I was pleasantly surprised to see him flourish and grow in a few years. He and I are still in touch, and I have learnt a lot from him. Ever since then, when I feel like rejecting a candidate I ask myself, “Am I envious of him/her?”

Want to see change? Then get more misfits!

One of the topmost issues plaguing our corporate world is the need for change. Change in our attitudes, change in our processes, change in our mind-sets, and change in the way we work. To get there, we need to seriously look at all of our job description definitions once again. If we want game-changers, we need to look out for misfits who will disrupt the current order of things. Think Galileo, Christopher Columbus, Larry Page & Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and the likes.

Let us look at all positions where the gender ratio is skewed. How about the people in our company? Do they speak different native languages? Do they come from different ethnic backgrounds? What about the age-groups and the generations – do we have a healthy ratio of Gen X to millennials? Diversity and inclusion is not only about hiring women, it is also about looking at women we seem to ignore and assume that they are “out of practice” and “out of the game”.

There is no other way to look at it. Misfits bring to the table radical thought pattern and ideas. Having them in the team shakes up things around quite a bit. It helps existing teams to come out of their comfort zones.

Of course, this does not mean that we hire rebels just for the heck of it. We need to shed our preconceived notions and prejudices when we hire them. Misfits are humans after all, and they too need guidance and direction and most of all – acceptance and an opportunity to prove their worth. It is time we embraced the risks of hiring misfits – we need to create round slots for round pegs!

As Apple Inc. said in one of their “Think Different” campaigns:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

The Leader’s New Clothes

(Posted on LinkedIn on Nov 8, 2014)

As a child, I thrived on an endless supply of fables, legends, and stories. Many of them have stood the test of time, and are amazingly profound in their relevance to human behaviour even today. One such short story is Hans Christian Andersen’sThe Emperor’s New Clothes. If you haven’t read it already, I would recommend that you do! It’s a brilliant story about an emperor and his people who are worried about keeping pretences at all costs, even at the cost of denying the obvious that even a child could see through. (Pun unintended!)

As I read this story once again today, I realize we all behave like the emperor and his minister, or his subjects. We look for outward traits and behaviors in leaders and when we don’t find those traits or behaviors, we assume that we are unfit and that something is wrong in ourselves. Overt negative behavior like shouting or abusing is obvious to everyone. But how do you recognize the signs of implicit negative leadership?

We assume that an individual’s title, designation, qualification, or outward appearance or mannerisms indicate his character. We live in a visual world where food is delicious because of the way it is presented, or a woman is beautiful because of the way she looks. Like the emperor and his subjects, when we see something in that individual that does not resonate with leadership behavior, we ignore our inner voice and believe our perception to be incorrect.

How do we become like the child in that story who can clearly see the truth? Like the proof of the pudding is in its taste, here are a few examples of unsavoury behaviours that makes the child in us see the truth.

Expressing helplessness

Leaders are humans, and all of us do feel helpless or powerless during certain situations. But throwing up our hands in despair and shrugging hopelessly when our teams look up to us for a solution, is an extremely disappointing behaviour. There is always something that can be done to improve the situation. The very least a leader could do, is show some signs of optimism and demonstrate willingness to listen and resolve the situation.

Badmouthing

As leaders we represent the company to our teams. We all definitely have our moments of frustration with upper management, but it’s pretty uncool when a leader constantly keeps complaining about “the deplorable state of affairs” before his or her team. Similarly, maligning or ridiculing clients or other employees especially behind their backs, is another sign of a chink in the armour. It is always preferable discussing issues objectively with a view to find a solution.

Making inappropriate or unethical requests

Over and above requests that can trigger a sexual harassment complaint, there are other inappropriate requests from a leader that can ring loud warning bells. One of my friends during a coaching session talked about how a high level leader in the company asked for his personal bills to be entered as official bills in the system. My friend who worked in the Accounting department politely declined the request. The leader joked about it, but my friend was afraid about being fired. Of course that didn’t happen, but I did feel sad because the leader in question was very highly respected and admired in the company.

Self-centered or opportunistic behaviour

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

I think this describes perfectly what I’m talking about! There are managers who don’t even respond to emails unless you copy someone from the higher rank. Speaks volumes about their character, doesn’t it?

Conflicting messaging

The leadership talks about non-tolerance towards certain behaviour but does not take action when their employees complain. The company boasts of an open culture, but the HR team never proactively reaches out to frontline teams to get their feedback and check whether everything is okay. And so on.

Insensitive processes

We expect leaders to be humane and capable of cutting through the red tape where it comes to employee policies. Layoffs are an unfortunate reality in today’s corporate scenario, but there is always a way of doing it that makes an employee walk out with his or her dignity intact. Your company may have a prolific leader at the helm, but if the exit process is not handled sensitively with empathy, then there are others watching and judging the leadership! These are the employees that the company still needs after all.

Poor response during calamity

I have already discussed this in a previous article “Leadership during Adversity”. Like they say, when the going gets tough, the tough hide!

“But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

Like the child in the story, we must be able to see things the way they are. There are plenty of clear signs of a mediocre or poor leader if we only look and trust our own discernment. However, rather than passing judgment or worse, getting disillusioned, spotting these behaviors makes us conscious about what we shouldn’t do. There is a moral in every story after all.

#leadership #behaviour #behavior #exit #selfish #opportunistic #leader #topmanagement #integrity #ethics #mediocre

E-learning the right way!

e-learning

Like coaching and leadership development, e-learning too seems to be a nice-to-have inclusion in the talent management list of most organizations. What really remains to be seen is whether it plays the role it is meant to, or is a mere topping on the learning and development pizza!

Why e-learning?

The basic intention behind e-learning or any technology-based training is to provide a self-paced and personalized learning option to people where they do not need to worry about being slower or faster as compared to other participants of a training program. E-Learning as an option is extremely attractive as it helps organizations cut down the cost of trainers, infrastructure, and other overheads such as travel and hotel costs. However the core purpose or primary goal of the training still needs to remain the same. By the end of the training, the participant should have acquired the skill.

Discontent about content

What was meant to be an exercise in making people happy, sadly ended up being a pain pill. Today we have tons and tons of content shoved into an electronic format with a few navigational buttons and a no-brainer “duh!” quiz, all in the garb of e-learning. The participants (I will not call them learners) are mandated to complete these hundred pages, without which they will not be considered certified for that skill. The makers of the e-learning aren’t happy either. The instructional designers or content writers have to go through a truckload of material and chase subject matter experts before they can extract the “necessary” amount of content for the course. Designers and developers have their own set of woes as they have the daunting task of beautifying the pages, and mass producing and packaging it all together as one unit. It’s like producing an expensive blockbuster sci-fi with a poor script. Neither the production unit, nor the audience is content with the end result!

Here’s an interview by the brilliant Cathy Moore where she says, “…a lot of e-learning uses passive information presentation (or information “dump”), where the amount of cognitive involvement on the part of the learner is nil. You might have quiz questions that ask you to remember what you saw just one screen ago — just testing short-term memory.” Well, she just summed it up!

All roads do not lead to e-Learning

Just as an OTC painkiller cannot be the only medication for every ailment, e-learning too cannot be the only mode of learning. As an L&D consultant, when would you propose e-learning as the learning methodology for your clients? As the HR training head or business leader, when would you identify e-learning as the mode for driving skills within your organization? Here are some of the situations where e-learning makes sense:

  • Introduction to a concept, solution, policy, or product
  • Demonstration of a technical task such as demonstrating the use of the VLOOKUP function in Microsoft Excel or logging into a website
  • Reinforcement of previously taught skills or practices such as cross-cultural or teleconferencing etiquette, listening skills and so on
  • Familiarizing end users of a software solution or product with the user interface and a few basic steps

These are just a few situations. Simply put, e-Learning as a learning methodology makes sense when the learner is expected to gain concrete knowledge or information. That said, a comprehensive audience analysis helps while designing the e-learning, especially when you have a multi-generation workforce.

Making e-learning work

How can we make our people willing participants to e-learning? With so much technology and social networking at our disposal, creating e-learning is no longer difficult. Nonetheless, e-learning in most corporate setups continues to be an arduous chore. Hey, even I’m guilty of wanting to fast-forward some of the courses and hoping they were shorter and more relevant!

Here are few ways we could make e-learning effective and attractive to employees.

Avoid content overkill

It is important to prioritize the learning objectives to help us distinguish between content that is directly connected to the objectives, and information that is nice-to-know. It isn’t necessary to dump all available content into e-learning. You could always maintain a reference document with nice-to-know information for those who are interested. An e-learning course is effective and attractive when it is short and relevant. A 30-minute course? Good. A 15-minute one? Now you’re talking!

E-Book versus e-Learning

Knowledge that is available in the form of books or presentations, are actually reference materials and not e-learning. Remember the purpose of training is to indoctrinate measurable skills. If it is e-Learning, it has to be short, interactive, and test understanding of the concepts. Otherwise it is just an e-book or a slide deck!

Make it fun and meaningful

I’ve endured e-learning loaded with animations and graphics that rather than interesting me, have made me impatient. Relevance and context are very important to e-learning. Introducing rich media is tricky and you need to get it right. The script and treatment will always be king, so always invest in the right development team that puts the learner before everything else. Instructional designers and content developers must go through e-learning themselves to understand what the learner goes through. Another key aspect is personalizing the learning content. Although e-learning is intended to be delivered to a large audience, it should be written in a way where the learner feels it addresses him as an individual. As the instructional writer, if you can bring in the emotional connect to the learner, you’ve got it.

Make it generation-friendly

It’s a well-known fact amongst learning and development professionals that different generations respond to e-learning differently. Most of the instructional design analysis focuses on the objectives and content and leave out the audience and their learning behaviours in the equation. Instead, if we could present the content in a way that it becomes appealing and approachable, we will have better participation and buy-in.

Leverage technology!

People all over the world book their movie tickets via their smartphones and here we have some companies implementing e-learning courses that look like chronicles! If I want to learn more about ALS, would I take a two-hour e-learning course organized as lessons, topics, pages, or Google “ALS” to know more? Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook – all are great digital platforms for learning.

For software products, we could embed e-learning videos or simulations as part of the application Help feature. We could even build a learning cloud for trainers, subject-matter experts, and learners where people could either upload or download short e-learning capsules using their PCs, tablets, or smartphones. Besides sharing talent, knowledge and expertise, this is a great way of exploiting technology for the benefit of the learning community.

Google Glass sounds like a highly promising and path-breaking technology where learning is integrated to the actual work and you learn while performing the task. A lot is being written and said about it, and I’m very excited about its positioning and prospects in this digital era. Imagine that you want to know how to use a new equipment on your factory floor. Instead of attending a training program, or waiting for someone to show you how to use it, you and your trainer can use Google Glass where she could demonstrate the use of the equipment on the go in real time. The benefits of this are many-fold. Not only is the training contextual and relevant, it also makes the employee productive from day one.

Real learning is blended!

There are many methodologies and ways of imparting skills and depending on the audience and the subject, each technique is irreplaceable. Google Glass may help me learn the new application at my desk, but a classroom training enables me to meet other participants face-to-face and connect emotionally.  As a new manager, I might learn how to use a new reporting tool by watching a video, but I would still need a mentor who can advise me on how I could assess my employees during their appraisal. As a customer service rep I might go through an e-learning video to learn how to log cases using the new CRM tool, but a group discussion with other reps would still be the preferred way to share and learn new ways to improve customer satisfaction.

While learning content, methodologies, or delivery mechanisms are extremely critical in delivering effective learning, what is of paramount importance is aligning individual needs with functional business and organizational goals.

Are we hiring people or headcount?

hiring

As managers and leaders, one of our most crucial decisions is selecting the right people in our teams. There are decisions to be taken at every stage from initial screening to the final interview stage. Unfortunately, hiring is perceived as a number filling game where we don’t look at candidates as people but as profiles or headcount.

What’s wrong with “headcount”?

Like the words “resources” and “headcount” that have replaced the more humane term “employees” in the corporate workplace, candidates are now called “profiles”. A profile essentially indicates a snapshot of the candidate’s skills, experience, and attributes that help us ascertain a candidate’s suitability, just like resources indicate people with the necessary skills for executing a project.

There’s no problem referring to people as “profiles” or “resources”, so long as they are used in the right context. For instance, when we discuss the suitability of a candidate to an opening while discussing the hiring process, using the word “profile” is appropriate as we are describing the individual. Headcount is fine so long as we are talking about the number of people we need.

However, we tend to forget that we need an individual or a group of people with values and skills that align with the organization’s work culture and business goals. It’s more than just filling a spot, and that’s where the term “headcount” is very limiting.

A whole-brained decision

On the face of it, hiring seems to be a left-brained activity. However when we actually delve deeper, it needs to be a whole-brained activity. Filling a number needs little or no decision skills. Checking whether or not a candidate fits into the required skill set can even be automated. However, deciding whether or not a candidate works for the need and determining whether he is going to add value, involves right-brained thinking.

Hire in haste, repent at leisure

One of the root causes of employee disengagement is lack of long-term alignment of the employee’s skills with the company’s business goals and strategy. Note that we’re talking about goals and not targets. The tendency is to hire people for a project or an immediate business need, rather than selecting them for a long-term purpose. Hire in haste, repent at leisure. Okay so I have twisted an old proverb, but that is so true today! Headcount, profiles, resources – all these are terms that make sense only in a temporary context.

Idle brain YouTube’s workshop!

We hire engineers and MBA graduates for jobs that don’t really demand more than 10% of their prolific degrees. For instance, I know of companies that hire MBA graduates for market research that actually involves collecting information using Google search. I have also heard of software companies that recruit fresh engineering graduates who expect to get their hands into coding but generally end up monitoring reports or testing small functions. As these tasks aren’t challenging enough to keep the employees on their toes, we find them with plenty of idle time. No wonder there is heavy traffic on YouTube, Amazon, Facebook, and their likes! In the haste to complete hiring, managers also end up hiring “white elephants” who no longer serve any future purpose or requirement within the organization. Yes, we are talking about folks who are “on the bench” long after the project is complete.

Negativity and conflicts

Finding the right talent is never easy. It requires painstaking effort and a huge process of elimination at the time of short-listing. Unfortunately, the compulsion to “close the position” leads to short-listing of candidates by only considering their job skills. Consequently, the hiring manager ends up with “problem employees” who have an “attitude problem” or become “bad apples” in the team. Having such individuals puts unnecessary stress on the manager as they become overheads rather than assets.

Immediate gains, long-term loss

To understand the heavy cost of recruitment and its impact, here’s an interesting article on a survey conducted by Careerbuilder in2013. India alone had 84% companies reporting adverse impact due to bad hiring decisions. The loss isn’t the bottom-line alone. Loss of employee morale, loss of time in training and induction, reduced business opportunities, dwindling sales, and reduced repurchase from existing clients – all these are a result of poor hiring.

A dearth of talented successors

The tendency to be hasty in hiring also leads to lack of succession planning. A majority of players with talent and potential leave when they realize the company does not have a long term growth strategy. That leaves us with people who may or may not fit the bill as future leaders. And so begins yet another unconstructive cycle – bad managers leading to unhappy employees and dissatisfied customers, and so on.

Hiring ‘em right the first time!

So how do we zero on the right people and not just add to the headcount? Over the course of my career, I have had my share of hiring blunders that have helped me improve my ability to identify and select the right people.

Versatility versus virtuosity

What kind of team do you have? Is it a startup team that has been newly formed, or a team that is already well-established with a more or less well-defined roles and responsibilities? A startup team needs versatile players who can work with ambiguity and have the ability to lay down foundations for future teams. More than qualification, you need strong entrepreneurial skills and out-of-the-box thinking. People with experience in working for startup or small scale companies would usually best fit this requirement as they have the ability to deal with the unexpected. Mavericks would do a great job here. However, people with this profile are restless and would need to be provided challenging roles once the team eventually settles down to becoming an established center.

If you have an established team, then you probably need people with the required skills and experience for the job. You also need them to follow instructions and be diligent. Knowing that your team may not expand significantly in the coming years helps you pick up dedicated individuals who feed on job security and are happy being team players.

Global skills

If you are hiring for a global team with a matrix reporting structure, then communication and collaboration skills are a must. I would any day opt for a strong and persuasive communicator over a highly skilled individual, provided the job does not demand high-end skills.

Visualization helps!

A job opening is always your need for a problem solver. Look at the job description and try to imagine a person with these qualities. Does it seem like your chosen candidate would be able to solve your problem? Visualize your team working in the office. Can you picture your chosen candidate as one of them? If you cannot, chances are that the person will not fit into the team.

Trust your gut

Intuition is one of the most needed abilities for a hiring manager. Here you have a dream candidate. She has the right skills and the right experience. Except that you are unable to decide. Whether or not you believe, your intuition is trying to tell you something. One of my managers taught me, “When in doubt, reject!” This has always helped me. There are times when I have doubted my gut-feel and felt tempted to close the position. Nine times out of ten, I have hired the wrong people when I did that. Don’t worry about the ageing days or the follow-ups from your recruitment team. Wait for the right person to come along, and no matter what, listen to your intuition!

Job satisfaction – is it possible?

bored

As I go through the host of articles available online on leadership, management, motivation, and happiness, I’m struck by the following facts about the corporate workplace today:

  • People are discontent
  • People are disinterested in their jobs
  • People feel “stuck” in the present
  • People want to feel motivated
  • People want something exciting to happen

The lure of the bubble

It happens to most of us. We graduate and want to be selected by prime organizations hoping that would be our big ticket to the great career. “And what is that great career?” No one has a clear answer. “Good pay”, “great work culture”, “growth opportunities”, “good position”, and so on goes the list. We are all those eager hopefuls that walk out of a college campus into another one that is centrally air-conditioned feeling all important and charged. The fact that we are similar to a hundred other people does not faze us. In fact we feel proud on being part of such a big company. On the surface we feel we are poised to do something exciting, whereas in reality, we know we are in that safe “job security” zone. This false sense of excitement is what lures us to the big companies.

When the bubble bursts

We are swept along with the flow in our secure life-jackets in the happy boat for the first three to five years where we learn new skills or accomplish our daily assignments without realizing that something has changed. All of a sudden, we see a few of our co-workers on a different, shinier and bigger boat, and reality strikes. These co-workers decide to do something daring like jumping into the sea and swimming to a different boat. We are left adrift in the sea of routine and think, “Oh no! I would like to be on THAT boat!”

Eventually, after the initial excitement of the new job or new role fades, routine sets in. The same safety blanket now becomes a stifling chain that has us trapped. Boredom sets in, followed by discontentment and finally, disengagement.

In our initial years, we are part of a larger group. As the organization expands, new opportunities arise and before we know it, some of our select co-workers get chosen for higher positions as team leads or managers. Some of them leave the company for better roles in other companies.

Is it possible to stay excited?

Job satisfaction is that profound yet clichéd phrase, similar to happiness. Like happiness, job satisfaction is not constant, but rather a state of mind. Is it possible to stay happy all the time? Can we ever get a role that gives us job satisfaction all throughout? Is it possible to sustain excitement? It isn’t easy and needs work, but it is possible. Here are some of the ways we could manage our expectations and understanding of what makes us happy in our jobs.

Ask yourself: What do I want?

Growing and changing is an inevitable part of our lives. The things that made us happy even a couple of years ago, may not cut it today. As circumstances change, our requirements change, and so do our wants and needs. However we need to be careful about not wanting something because someone else has it. Remember that adage about the grass being greener on the other side? You need to put yourself, your uniqueness, and your strengths into the equation.

It helps asking yourself the following questions every year:

  • What is great about my current situation?
  • What isn’t great about my current situation?
  • How do I want to see myself this year?
  • What could I do to get there?
  • What are my fears? What happens if I fail? What happens if I succeed?

These questions have helped me gain perspective on my current position and where I wanted to go at crucial junctures of my career.

Take charge

It doesn’t help getting on a career boat just to enjoy the ride. You need to keep looking at the horizon to check whether the boat is taking you to your destination. Rather than wait passively for things to happen, you need to proactively steer your career the way you want it to go. Talk to people who have done it, read articles, participate in discussions, take a few courses if required, whatever, but do something. If that doesn’t help, you may want to throw the life-jacket and jump into the sea. There is no point complaining about the boat and the life-jacket! Your needs have changed, and you need to take action and take charge of your life.

I reached my first growth plateau after I completed five years in my job. I felt unhappy and stuck in my current role. At that time I felt that I stood a better chance of reaching my sweet spot if I opted for lateral growth opportunities. I took on a role that no one had taken before. It was considered a risk at that time, but I never regretted it. While I may not have reached an executive level in these twenty years of my career, I was fortunate I got opportunities to take on new roles, new responsibilities, and getting to learn something new.

It’s your choice

Here’s a popular quote that is one of my favourites. “The 3 C’s of Life: Choices, Chances, Changes. You must make a choice to take a chance or your life will never change.” Here’s a fourth C – Courage. It takes courage to make a choice. Throwing off a life-jacket and diving into unknown waters is not going to be easy. If you find that intimidating, here’s another quote by Karen Salmansohn – “What if I told you that ten years from now, your life would be exactly the same? I doubt you would be happy. So, why are you so afraid of change?”

It is possible you might find that the risks of change outweigh the excitement, and decide to stay back in your safe boat. Don’t be too judgemental about yourself. Remember, staying back is also a choice. Once you decide to stay back, accept your choice and look at things you could do to sustain your enthusiasm.

I had to quit from a prime and prolific position in a growing start-up as I faced a dilemma in my personal life. I had to look after my children who I felt, needed me. Being a full-time home-maker was a new experience, but I’m glad I took those three years off to do the usual mom things like baking, playing with my children, and helping them with their homework. Today I have a great equation with my daughters. I believe they consider me their friend and confidante and a great sounding board. While I may have lost some ground in my career, I got a chance to invest precious time with my children during their growing years.

Create magic in the mundane

At times circumstances are such that you may not want to take risks. A baby, elderly parents, tight finances, or unplanned expenses could hold you back in your current job. Is it possible to work some magic in your mundane life? There are ways in which you could make your job more meaningful. Here are some ideas that always work for me.

Innovate

Look at your job and your responsibilities with a critical eye and ask yourself, how could I make this work more creative? Can I write a mobile app? Can I deliver the project with extra features? How can I reduce the time to deliver without impacting quality? Why don’t I initiate a series of training workshops? Once you get started, you will be surprised at the ideas that flow.

Give

The law of Karma states that you get what you give. What goes around comes around. Start contributing to your circle. You could volunteer to train new employees, conduct knowledge sharing sessions, or coordinate events. You could also pitch in for community service or volunteering activities conducted by your organization. Try doing something for someone without expecting anything in return. Well, you get more than just something in return – a sense of purpose and inner joy.

Lift

Lift your spirits and others’ around you. Energy, whether positive or negative, is contagious. It is easier sliding back to negativity about your boss or your job, but takes effort to lift yourself above the negative pattern you’re languishing in. If you have decided you are going to have to continue in your current job, then look at your situation positively. Ask yourself – what am I benefitting by continuing here? If you can’t see any benefits, don’t kid yourself. Get off the boat, but don’t weigh others down with your negativity. Lifting your spirits isn’t difficult just a physical effort. The effort is psychological, spiritual, and mental as well. Indulge in humour, or some recreational activity like games or exercise. Spiritual activities like meditation, yoga, prayer, or soul music can work wonders on your sense of balance.

Rediscover yourself

When was the last time you used your talent? It could be cooking, photography, dancing, music, drama, or painting. If it has been ages since you last picked up the brush, try. The first stroke is possibly the toughest, but once you get past it, the sense of liberation is pretty exhilarating to say the least. I was a singer during my college days, and somehow over the years, I lost the habit. I have attempted to practice singing again; although I may not sound very great, I feel wonderful. It’s all about fulfilling the gaps in other aspects of your life. We dedicate a huge chunk of our lives to our careers and families forgetting that we need to nurture other aspects of our selves too.

Leadership Development – Training versus Strategy

It never ceases to amaze me. Organizations today spend a huge amount of their training budgets in putting their employees through the classic Time Management programs where considerable emphasis is placed on being proactive versus reactive, spending time on tasks that are “important but not urgent”, and thinking “out of the box”. Paradoxically, these companies do not have a proactive leadership development strategy in place. They wait for client complaints, dwindling sales, exiting employees, and dropping earnings per share before they conclude that they need to “fix their leadership”.

Leadership development in a classroom?

Sadly though, a majority of leadership programs are designed and conducted like moral science lessons. Most managers being adults already know they need to “walk the talk”, “be a role model”, and “listen to their people”. There is no point in telling them what they already know. Some trainers do manage to make their sessions more interactive with role plays and activities, but once the training is over, the participants go back to their offices – back to square one! No matter how wonderful the trainer/facilitator or how impressive the content or presentation, the question that remains is, now what?

Real problems, real people, real situations

Thanks to today’s matrix global workplace structures, managers have to battle with complex situations like working with international customers, constantly changing processes and dynamics, multiple bosses, employees spread across different shifts or locations, to name a few. The challenge multiplies when teams need to ramp up quickly and star performers leave without a succession plan in place. Ultimately, managers have to resort to promoting the best out of the lot, who are pushed into the mainstream without a lifeguard.

Compare this to the situation even a decade ago when it was possible to observe and emulate your bosses. If you were unsure about which candidate to hire, or which employee to promote, you could check with your manager who would advise or guide you.

When you look at the situation today, who could a junior manager approach when faced with a dilemma? He may have attended the most expensive Crucial Conversations training, but how confident would he be about dealing with a political, back-stabbing team member? What would he know about keeping his team gainfully engaged when there are no projects in the near horizon?

The leadership development training that might have worked ten years ago, would no longer work effectively, simply because the theories remain theories without sufficient scope to learn by observation, or emulation. No matter how good a “high-potential” development plan or a succession plan looks on paper, it remains a mere theory if not supported by a robust leadership development strategy.

Making leadership development real

A strong leadership development strategy not only takes care of developing current leaders, but also aligns leadership with the culture of the organization. This means that every leader puts to practice the core values of the organization.

Here are some of the possible ways leadership development can be a strategy rather than a series of training programs.

Identifying and assessing basic leadership competencies during selection

For this, it is important to identify the top few mandatory behavioral competencies you want to see in your leaders no matter what domain, vertical, or department they manage. These could be People management, Planning, Customer service, Communication, Interpersonal relationship, and so on.

The management leadership in consultation with the executive HR could implement evaluation instruments to assess their leadership candidates on these parameters. All candidates, internal and external should be put through the assessment. These assessments could be 360-degree surveys (for internal candidates), group discussions, or other assessment center instruments, depending on the competencies identified. The management could also select candidates that they feel can be developed on competencies they may lack.

Rather than a face-to-face interview with only the hiring department manager, a behavioral interview round with a cross-functional leadership panel would help better decision making that is not subject to prejudices or bias. Moreover the managers from other departments would be able to exercise more objectivity than the hiring manager, who might feel pressurized to hire who she thinks is the best candidate. It is important that the talent management/OD leadership is also part of the interviewing as they would be able to ascertain implicit traits that others may not be able to spot as easily.

Getting them started

In case of first-time managers, it usually helps putting them through a basic orientation program where they understand the company’s vision and leadership principles. They also need to know about the leadership competencies expected out of them. The talent management team could also form a committee or support group for all first-time leaders and provide them basic resources to get them started. Here, it might also help to conduct instructor-led workshops/programs on leadership basics.

Next, the HR business partner and talent development leadership need to meet with the new leaders letting them know who they could reach out to. This also gives the new manager a sense of pride and belonging. This could be followed by a few months of on-the-job mentoring by his senior manager who could introduce the new manager slowly into the system.

Sustaining the energy

Like I mentioned earlier, even first-time managers already know the core principles of leadership because they have already worked under a manager. Even if they didn’t get to experience a great leader, they would at least be aware of what they shouldn’t be doing as leaders!

The first couple of years are going to be full of challenging situations that would provide plenty of learning opportunities to the new leader. Performance issues, customer escalations, attrition, unhappy employees, performance appraisal, and conflicting project priorities will not only test his willpower, but also his sense of right versus wrong. It is during these critical moments that new managers would need coaches and mentors who have been there, done that.

The talent management team can form a panel of senior management leaders who can act as coaches and mentors to these new leaders. Coaching is an excellent process as that would help the manager find his own solution to his challenges especially where it comes to decision-making and using his own intuition. Being mentored by senior leaders would help him learn other and more efficient ways of dealing with similar situations as these leaders would be sharing their real experiences.

A transition from individual contributor to manager is a painful process. The strongest emotion is that of loneliness as a manager cannot talk about their problems with their team. They cannot talk to their own manager either probably because she is on a different time zone in a different country!

A monthly ongoing series of one-hour workshop could be scheduled by the talent management team whereby one of the senior leaders in rotation could facilitate discussions on real topics and situations like “Dealing with political employees”, “How to keep the team engaged”, “Communicating new compensation policies”, and so on. The emphasis here is on discussion amongst the participants rather than a trainer/facilitator taking a behavioral learning session. Over a period of time, these managers naturally reach out to each other to compare notes and learn better ideas, and form their own emotional support group.

Blended learning in leadership development

A talent management team’s role is not merely limited to conducting programs but to facilitate different ways of developing talent through blended learning ranging from e-learning, on-the-job knowledge transfer, instructor-led sessions, or even activities like group discussions or seminars. All these enable holistic learning – both formal and informal. The talent management team could organize online learning resources in the form of videos, articles, and other presentation material to help leaders sharpen their knowledge on an ongoing basis. They could organize seminars from industry experts. There are so many free webinars out there on leadership that companies could well leverage.

Thinking out of the classroom!

As per basic learning theories and principles, adults learn best when they are put into situations that mimic real life. A classroom is as far from real life as it can be. It’s time we taught new leaders how to think out of the classroom rather than out of the box!

Employee disengagement begins with leader disengagement. A neglected leader will bring down the morale of a large number of employees and customers too along with her. Leadership development cannot be a series of training programs anymore. A solid and enduring leadership development strategy cannot be a quick fix! It is a critical requirement that needs to be revisited and revised on a regular basis to help the organization stay in context.