Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Laloo and Leadership ??

I was watching NDTV Profit last night, Prannoy Roy was discussing the Railway Budget with Rahul Bajaj and Tarun Das. Both these distinguished gentlemen were endorsing the Railway Budget and the work that Laloo Prasad Yadav and his team in the Indian Railways has put in the last three years . While I was listening to them with great attention, I recalled a guest lecture from Mr Vivek Sahai , Additional General Manager Western Railways , the context of the guest lecture was the transformation of the Railways in the last few years .

A die hard Railway executive Mr Sahai spoke of things that one could never imagine would happen to the Indian Railways . After the lecture of Mr Sahai , I was left with a series of questions:

a) What really has happened to the Railways in the last few years ?
b) How did the government recognize the reason for change and more importantly drive the process of change with passion and conviction
c) How did a lethargic government suddenly become so customer focused and technology savvy

I knew the answer lay in transformation leadership across all levels of the Indian Railways but I found it very difficult to imagine that Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav would be part of the processes, least lead such a process. The mental image that I carried of Laloo was that of a village bumpkin , an illiterate politician a person who has always used caste equations to be successful in the polls , and a corrupt individual (remember the fodder scam) . I was convinced that people like Laloo are the cause of the nation’s misery and hoped that Laloo could be somehow removed from public life permanently …….. I was biased against Laloo and could not really believe that he could be an icon of any meaningful change ............

However if we take an unbiased view and look at the achievements of the Indian Railways in the last few years , I am now convinced that Laloo is a new age liberalization icon and here are some things that would bear testimony of that fact :

1.The last 3 railways budgets are in all in the direction of commercialization, process improvements (both customer and operational processes…) and higher accountability across the rank and file of the railways. He started small in the first of his three budgets and build up the momentum with the one that he presented yesterday.

2.It would be uncharitable not to acknowledge the set of processes that the new regime of the railways has designed to make the process of railway reservation transparent , the processes of online booking , checking your ticket and reservation status online are amazing process improvements. In addition to this he has announced that all TT’s would be given PDA’s from this year to make the process even better

3.The freight management processes and the creation of freight corridors has made transportation of goods seamless and efficient. This has made a great impact in the industry and also made the railways much more commercially viable

One could always argue that the performance of the railways has nothing to do with Laloo , it’s a function of the general buoyancy in the economy (resulting to higher freight realizations) and a great team , Laloo just did nothing ..he is not capable of doing anything good ….

Trust me , I am also a great Laloo critic , but I cant help but giving him credit of managing the Railways like a CEO , who drives profitability hard and empowers his people . Mr Sahai has been a distinguished officer in the Railways for a few decades and am sure he has worked under multiple Railway Ministers, but Laloo must have empowered many people like Mr Sahai to take the Railways to a different level of performance ….is that not leadership…..!!!

Indian politics has always debated the cost of development and our Left wing parties have always espoused that the development in this country is not inclusive (the gains of development do not percolate to the weaker sections of society..), but here is Laloo the icon of the underprivileged, leading a transformation and ensuring that development of the railways leads to sharing of gains with the underprivileged (more efficient railways networks, cheaper tickets..etc etc)…does that not make him the new avatar of inclusive development ,……is he not a leader that we all need……can we afford to write him off just because he is not urbane and sophisticated …..would love to hear your thoughts on the same ………do write in ….

Monday, February 26, 2007

Mission -"Primary Education"

This post is a sequel to my previous post on Education and Resurgence of India (30 Jan 2007) . In the post of 30th Jan , I referred to the two key pillars of the education ecosystem (Rote Learning and the Examination System) . The objective of that post was to highlight the impact of these two pillars in the overall development of talent in our country .In this post I make some more assumptions and draw your attention to some key metrics to track the efficiency of the overall spend on education

My assumptions are:

1. India is in the process of transforming itself into a developed nation by 2020 , yet we have 350 million people who need literacy and many more who have to acquire employable skills to suit the emerging modern India and the globe

2. Children who belong to weaker sections of our society are undernourished, and only a small percentage of them manage to complete 8 years of satisfactory education

3. Unequal access to educational resources still exists due to a variety of socio-economic reasons

It would be wrong to say that successive governments have done precious little for the cause of Mission Education since our independence. The budgetary allocations to the cause of education has steadily increased over successive Union Budgets…..however 35% of our adult population is still illiterate. Today our expenditure on education is somewhere in the range of 5% of our GDP, a good question to ask “Is it good enough?”

I am trying to leave you with some metrics to evaluate the efficacy of the spend on education and ,who knows with the Right To Information Act (RTI) , one of you could actually hold the Union Minister and his colleagues accountable to these metrics

Amount spent in investments in the following processes for primary education as an overall % of the budgetary allocation on education :

a) Revamp of primary education curriculum to teach ‘Life Skills” as against learning by rote .

b) Introduction of “Technology Enhanced Education” –setting the hardware in place

c) Examination Reforms (Are we testing for the ability to memorize, as against the ability to conceptualize and innovate ?)

d) Empowering the backward classes with educational incentives at the primary school level (as against trying to give subsidies in the form of reservations…)

e) Reducing drop-outs (data shows 39% of students drop out after class 5 and 55% after class 8 . It would be hazardous to assume that “The Right to Education Bill” can stem the rot , we need to take into account the socio –economic realities and also convert the existing classroom into a fun place to be...discovery learning ...

These metrics are indicative, but if somebody could do a detailed analysis of the ratios, it would probably be apparent that the investments may not be happening in the right places .
Our Government's pre-occupation with reservations for higher education institutes, leaves him with no time to think about more fundamental issues of education in our country…

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Technology applications for education

I write this post in the context of my previous post on Education and The Resurgence of India. One of my blogger friends did raise the issue of taking discovery learning to the masses and to explore an effective model of doing so . I thought about the issue and though i don't have ready made answers , but I believe that elements of discovery based learning can be simulated in a traditional rote environment through the use of technology. Well I am not talking about a variant of Computer Aided Education , but a much more sophisticated concept . When the idea hit me i spoke to a colleague of mine who is involved in Instructional Design and is aware the Governments efforts in this direction , she said "Niladri , there are organizations who are trying to work with this idea in some parts of the country.....". Apparently there are some technology based class rooms already in place in parts of rural Karnataka , however in spite of the efforts these do not translate into something significantly different from rote learning .

The issue is probably because of the fact that the design of such experiences /simulations are not based on principles of constructivism (for details of Constructivist Learning Theory click http://www.exploratorium.edu/ifi/resources/constructivistlearning.html).

The efforts of creating a technology based class room in our schools of rural India are indeed efforts in the right direction , but its too few and too slow , and by the time this movement catches speed and traction, it might just be too late . Is anybody from the Education Ministry listening !!!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

HR in Startups (KPO's /BPO's/Consulting)–Some Reflections

In the last couple of years there has been quite an upswing of start up firms in India. In my circle of friends and former colleagues there are quite a few people who have left their cushy jobs and ventured out on their own to set up businesses in consulting , BPO and KPO spaces . The common thread that runs across all these businesses are that they are people centric and capitalize only on the intellectual prowess of their workforce .As you would expect that these start ups have their own HR organizations and have been able to attract competent HR professionals. However my firm belief is that People issues in these circumstances need to be viewed and managed fundamentally differently than in a mature set up

The objective of this post is to highlight some of the cornerstones of people management for start ups in the BPO/KPO or consulting space. People costs (salary, bonus, variable pay, espos etc) is the most significant operating cost for these organizations and hence the role of the HR Manager is needs to be somewhat similar to a Supply Chain manager . A HR Manager needs to build a strategy based on maximum value deliverance to the businesses for the people costs it incurs. This idea struck me when my school mate Judhajit Das Sr VP-HR of ICICI Prudential Life Insurance spoke about managing people costs in his organization in a lecture that he delivered to HR professionals. Reflecting on Jit's idea ,it became amply clear that HR is probably not doing justice to the business objectives that it ought to serve.

Subsequently I met a few HR Heads of such organizations and my suspicion became an initial hypothesis, it seems that we are managing HR as we would do in a normal and stable environment. We do the same old things, play around with the performance appraisal forms, write some training needs and then organize some training programs , get very busy during March-April for processing increments, promotions etc. Nothing wrong in any of these activities, but they are not the supply chain view of HR which I am trying to propagate. The supply chain view of HR in these cases would be an integrated set of systems and people processes which would feed into each other and derive maximum benefit from it , I am sure you will find this a bit abstract , but I will try and demystify the same .

My supply chain view of HR has the following set of assumptions

a) HR Processes are classified into two broad categories:

i.Operations – The set of processes which are need to be run efficiently at minimum costs , these processes are maintenance in nature and cannot be necessarily sharply co-related to business results (ex-payroll , benefits administration , some basic employee engagement processes, …)

ii.Developmental –these processes are ones which are critical to the supply chain and the quality and rigor of these processes determine the business value of HR . Developmental Hr processes are –performance management , talent identification , rewards strategy etc

An HR manager needs to quickly set the operations processes in place and then ensure that these are run optimally , once these processes are set up the HR Manager does not need to spend any more time or energy in these activities .

The Development processes need to be designed and implemented with a plan. My quick research shows that most HR managers do not have a clear plan or a framework of setting up these processes and hence their energy and focus gets diverted into multiple processes and therefore none of these are ever institutionalized. I don’t have ready answers or a framework as yet (thought I am working at one and people who are interested may contact me offline to discuss the same ) , but the following steps could act as a guideline

Before one gets into the design of such processes one needs to be very clear that each one of these need to stabilize before launching the other . In other words if the storage or warehousing systems are not great then its likely that the supply chain costs will go up due to pilferage and losses which will be difficult to make up even by efficient distribution systems

I would urge HR Managers to keep the following steps in mind (these are sequential in nature and I believe the maximum value is derived when the sequence is followed) while setting up developmental processes

a)Articulate the People Management Philosophy (How do we want to treat our people assets ? , do we reward for outcomes or efforts ? Do we reward innovation or are we happy with compliance ?…)

b)Define a recruitment strategy (where to get people from and how to get them at the most optimal cost )

c) Define the Performance Ethics and Philosophy

d) Design an appraisal methodology

e) Define the Rewards philosophy and the mechanics of performance differentiation
After establishing steps 1 and 2 , define competencies for the roles (both behavioral and functional)

f)Align the competency framework with career movements and progressions

g) Focus the Training plans on the competency framework and use a robust Instructional Design methodology to derive maximum benefit from training

Caution – These steps are incomplete and it is meant only for start ups in the first two years of its operations, the belief is that if these steps are followed in the way its recommended it creates a base from which the other processes can be build . This framework is not intended to be of any use to Hr Managers who operate in stable environments.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Performance Ethics in Indian Companies

McKinsey and Company (http://www.mckinsey.com/) has a proprietary Performance Ethic framework with which it establishes the differentiating characteristics of hi-performance organizations. I have been following the study with keen interest and inspired by Mckinsey , last year (2006) launched a study of my own called “Performance Ethic Survey” of Indian companies. I worked on the premise that there are two key levers of a hi-performance culture which are:

Performance Differentiation – The existence of processes which can identify superior performers consistently and reward them differentially. Here rewards includes both cash and non –cash rewards
Managing Underperformance – Ability to deal with underperformers either by weeding underperformers or developing underperformers.

The scope of my study was to understand how Indian organizations were managing underperformance and also differentiating performance. This study covered a healthy mix of real economy and services companies ( 17 in all , of which 8 were from services ) and the key findings from the survey data were as follows,

a) Distinct and evident shift towards differentiation either in application of bell curve or forced ranking. This is a trend across sectors
b) Old Economy companies generally have a lower percentage of their workforce as their top performers
c) Old economy , conservative companies are also moving from undifferentiated remuneration to higher levels of differentiation
d) Most companies do have Performance Improvement Plans ( PIP’s) , some PIP processes are mature , but as a trend most companies ensure that separation occurs if the PIP process fails (typical timelines are 6-12 months)
e) Large conglomerates like Tata’s and others recognize that superior performance needs to be rewarded differentially ,some companies within the conglomerates are already doing sharp differentiation ,while others are evolving in the space. Older entities like Tata Steel, VSNL, Indian Hotels, Tata Motors are also making a philosophical shift in this direction.

When I started designing my survey, I was expecting that real economy companies are still tentative about the issues of performance differentiation, but I was pleasantly surprised when the HR Heads of these companies repeatedly told me that for their companies to survive in this competitive world it was imperative for them to establish processes of accountability to the last man. They felt that Performance Management was a key tool to make things work for them, so there has indeed been a lot of emphasis on performance management processes in the last few years.

Traditionally, Performance Management has always been equated with the Performance Appraisals, in the course of my survey discussions not one HR Head spoke about the process of performance appraisals; their responses were much more broad-based and issues of development, managing talent, aligning organization and individual goals were of great relevance to them.

What was more encouraging for me was that there was a higher level of recognition of the fact that people need to be rewarded and managed differently. This was evident across all the sectors that I studied, particularly in the financial services industry the process of differentiation was really stark.
From a social perspective, India is a very indirect society and Indians find it difficult to confront each other with data and facts, least we end up offending each other. This behavior is manifested in organizations through the process of performance management as well. Managers find it difficult to give meaningful feedback on face to face conversations with their direct reports, this is a phenomenon that I have grappled with for the last few years and any amount of appraiser training does not seem to help. As part of the survey I found out that this behavior of managers (inability to call a spade a spade) is also changing.

In conclusion these changes augur well for India’s competitiveness, but the journey has just begun and as HR professionals we need to be at it with missionary zeal! (Continue to improve Performance Management processes)

Friday, February 16, 2007

India's Competitiveness -Flatten the World through technology and offshoring

I have many friends in the IT services sector who have this belief that someday India will lose its cost arbitrage advantage and the growth of IT services would really come down , slowing down the economy in general . What might probably happen that the rate of growth may see some correction , but overall we have scratched only the surface of professional services .

It is imperative to ask ourselves why is the Indian offshore model has been applied only to professional services like the IT services, while there are other huge businesses like payroll processing, outsourcing services like Learning Management , Talent Development , Supply chain management (ex-UPS)

I believe the it is time to flatten the world further and use our Technology prowess to continue build our competitiveness . It is interesting to note that Unilever has outsourced its Learning Management and some other Hr processes to Accenture at a fee of USD 1 bn (check out Accenture Learning Systems

While this is not a fully offshoring process but am sure India can provide content development and management service to large organizations . The question is who takes the lead....... and look at areas beyond IT services , the time has come to take the process of flattening to the next orbit.

Also check out (http://thinkflat.infosys.com/why-think-flat_perspectives.asp) for additional perspectives

Behavioral Process Interventions for Leadership Development

This post is a paper that I had written 3 years ago in a book on leadership development , thought it might make interesting read for HR professionals


1. Introduction

The focus of this paper is leadership development through semi-structured interventions referred to as Behavioral Process Interventions (BPI’s) . This paper explores the orientation of leaders and their teams under different scenarios and suggests interventions. This paper does not attempt to define leadership or leadership competencies; it is restricted to the author’s view of critical leadership challenges that he has observed across multiple industries. This is an attempt to distill the authors learning’s and experiences to form a framework of developmental processes for leaders. Implicit in this paper is an assumption that leadership development efforts across industries need a stronger focus on behavioral interventions than cognitive learning.

Behavioral Process Interventions have been used for personal learning and growth for quite sometime now. These could range from completely unstructured interventions where individuals give and receive feedback based on interactions/transactions in a facilitated setting, T-Groups (ex- Human Process Labs’ conducted by ISABS, NTL etc) or semi-structured interventions with groups of co-workers. In his professional experiences spanning more than a decade as a consultant in software services, business consulting and manufacturing industries, the author has made effective use unstructured to semi-structured methods to enable leaders and leadership teams to learn and grow.

Working as a Leadership Development professional and interacting with people in leadership roles, the author has made some hypothesis on which he has based his interventions. Paragraph 4 of this paper outlines these hypothesis/assumptions.

In his experience the author has dealt with leadership teams, which could be broadly classified into:

· Newly formed teams
· Functioning teams
· Cross functional teams

The author urges the reader to treat this as an application of some principles tailored to a context, which he feels, is beneficial to the learning and growth of people who hold leadership positions in Corporate India. This is a continuous learning process for the author himself and with more such experiences the assumptions are likely to be re-validated and refined over time.

2. Key definitions

2.1 Behavioral Process Interventions (BPI)

A BPI is a semi-structured learning event, which involves sharing of feedback, behavioral data, reflection and introspection.

It is not an unstructured sharing exercise which groups of people engage in periodic events organized by ISABS (www.isabs.org) in India or NTL (www.ntl.org) in the USA. While the physical settings of the event remain the same the critical differences being that data generated
outside the physical settings of event (i.e. the room where the intervention is held) are allowed to be used as valid data for discussion by the members (i.e.- data of the “then and there” are equally valid as the data generated in the room i.e. the data in the “here and now”). Another major aspect of this kind of intervention is what the author calls “Setting the Stage” process, which is preparing the leader for the change (paragraph 5.2 of this paper describes this in greater detail)

2.2 Teams

1.Newly formed teams- These teams come into existence after re-organizations or to give sharper focus to a product or service line. The members of these teams form the apex decision-making bodies of the Independent Business Units (IBU’s). The author classifies a leadership team as newly formed during the first six months of its existence

2.Functioning Teams – Leadership teams in existence for more than six months have been defined as functioning teams. The structure, reporting relationships, goals are clear to the members and individuals have a fair idea of each others strengths and weaknesses

3.Cross Functional Teams - These teams are created for a specific organizational purpose and are disbanded after the purpose is met. There is a designated leader in these teams, but members may not have a direct reporting relationship with the leader. Some cross-functional teams could be permanent in nature.

Ex-In the IT services industry there is a concept of a Development Center Management Team (a Development Center-DC is the physical entity where software development takes place). The objectives of this team are to manage the physical infrastructure, ensure employee communication, manage costs etc. This team is lead by a DC Manager and who is supported by other line and support managers. None of these members have a formal reporting relationship to the DC Manager, these individuals report to their functional bosses in the Corporate Headquarters

While working with these teams, sharp differences in orientation of individuals have been noticed. Fig 1 &2 below capture in a tabular form the dysfunctional orientations of leaders and members of these teams. The table has been constructed based on quotations made by members of these teams to the author either during the intervention or during diagnosis. Figures 1 and 2 have been entirely culled out of from the authors experience and therefore may not be viewed as universally true

Note - The tables could not be reproduced here , if you are interested to read the full paper , drop me a mail at niladri.neelabjo@gmail.com and i will be happpy to ship it across to you

The following section describes the top three leadership imperatives in the Indian context. An understanding of these imperatives or challenges would enable the reader to discover what the author believes are the key levers for leadership development

3. Top 3 Leadership imperatives in the Indian context

·Developing Leaders-Creating the leadership gene pool in the organization

Leadership Development continues to be viewed as an HR/Training agenda. Wherever there have been attempts to involve the top management in the process of leadership development, the efforts have yielded sub-optimal results. The existing leaders in corporate India need to view leadership development as a strategic activity. This is a rather complicated and non-trivial process. The pre-requisites for success in this endeavor are as follows:

1.The ability of the leaders to receive feedback and reflect on their dysfunctions
2.Recruit and empower professionals who are better than them and allow divergence of views and approaches
3.Allow people to grow into their positions and roles. According to the author the greatest test of developing leaders is when a leader makes himself redundant to the organization
4.Remove the aura of invulnerability that many leaders seem to cultivate

·Promoting Individual and Group Creativity

This involves, enabling individuals and teams to think beyond the obvious, discovering new paradigms and processes to achieve customer centricity. A leader should be a facilitator of individual and group creativity and in doing so raise the hopes and aspirations of people who work for him. There has been multiple instances where so-called leaders have stifled creativity in the name of process adherence and standardization. While there is a need for processes and metrics, leaders often tends to forget that the processes should not impede creativity. Most leaders that the author has come across lack a deeper understanding of people and often end up in celebrating and rewarding mediocrity.

· Championing Organizational Agility

Organizational agility in this context has been defined as the process wherein decision cycles are reduced, risk taking behavior evangelized, organizations de-layered, individuals empowered and change processes evangelized. The need for organizational agility is critical across industries for the following reasons:

1.Customers demands better service/value for the $
2.Technology reduces the barriers of entry across multiple sectors which enable unknown entities to threaten the incumbent players
3.Products have been rapidly commoditized and the differentiation can happen only through superior customer service, better customer segmentation and supply chain efficiencies.

The following paragraph describes the central theme of this paper and the premise of designing the BPI’s.

4. Key levers of leadership development

The premise of the BPI’s that the author has designed for leaders and their teams have been consistently based on augmenting the basic skills which will enable a leader to meet the leadership challenges outlined in the previous paragraph (Paragraph 3). The author felt that if a leader were able to explore the issues (ones discussed in the subsequent paragraphs) with his team then it would be a concrete step in his development in the direction of being a developer of leaders, promoter of creativity and champion of organization agility (the top 3 leadership imperatives in the Indian context -refer paragraph 3 of this paper)

1. Reflection and Self Dialogue- We need to encourage leaders to reflect on their biases, accept multiple data points about their behavior, understand how they impact their teams and their organization, accept their dysfunctions and make commitments to change. Most leaders that the author has worked with accept the need to go through this process and some actually invest their time and energy into it, however there are only a handful who have followed through and taken this process to a level wherein they themselves and people who work for them see the benefits.

2. Conflict of Motives- It has observed that many leaders face a conflict between their “articulated” and “real” motives. Ex- The author had an experience of dealing with a leader who would profess that team and teams goals are more important than any individual, however this individual (the leader) would himself indulge in politics, favoritism and rewarding people who were aligned to his views. While the stated position of the leader was team and group goals, deep down he promoted a dysfunctional individual hero worship. The author had many discussions with the individual and mirrored many data points with the interpretations, but was not able to make the individual accept his dysfunctions at a motive level. Another example of this conflict was seen when a leader’s articulated position was to institutionalize best of breed people processes in his organization, but his real motive was winning external recognition (awards) for himself, he would consciously scuttle all attempts to make sure processes have the desired impact on the organization. This conflict has a negative impact on the credibility with his team. In many cases this conflict is not conscious (i.e. the leader is unaware that there is a conflict), the author in his interventions has attempted to create awareness and ownership of such conflicts.

3. Vulnerability – Many leaders have the need to project themselves as invulnerable. However, it is the author’s belief that manifestations of invulnerability, not sharing motives and inability to take feedback from people are symptoms of individuals and teams who are not qualified to be leaders or leadership teams. The work of the author makes him believe that the display of invulnerability by the leader ruptures trust and credibility

The interventions that have been suggested have reflection, acceptance of individual motives and vulnerability as the three major levers of leadership development. The design or approach of these interventions are rooted in the context of the leader and his environment but the end objective is to help the individual(s) gain insight on these three parameters mentioned above.

5. Intervention Stages

In the subsequent paragraphs the paper describes the intervention stages and design options available to an professional engaged in leadership development . The follow paragraphs attempt to provide “How” answers to many questions raised in Para 4 of this paper

5.1- Diagnosis

Most of the BPI engagements that the author has undertaken were situations when the leader of the group wanted to solve a problem. The leader almost invariably felt that he knew the “problem” and wanted a “quick-fix” solution for the same.

Example A- In one case the leader of a Cross Functional team felt that the Line and Staff function members did not get along so he wanted a team building where the expectation from the author was to run a team building workshop.

A thorough and unbiased diagnosis is an important step even when the problem is articulated by the client (in this case leader of the team). The articulated pain point is often referred to as the “presented problem”, which needs to be understood in depth by the consultant in order to design his intervention.

A two level diagnostic process is recommended in most cases

1. Questionnaire (Ex- standard questionnaire designed by Edgar Schein refer Annexure-1, this can be modified to the context )
2. Face to face interviews with all the concerned members

After going through the two levels of diagnoisis of the situation in the problem mentioned in Example A, the author concluded that the fundamental issues were a combination of the following:

· The environment was one where back channel politics and personality attacks thrive
· Team members
· ignore controversial topics that are critical to team success
· Collective failure to tap into all the opinions and perspectives available in the team
· Hesitate to offer help outside their responsibility
· Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback

· Conceal weaknesses and mistakes from others

· Dissipation of
· energy in posturing and interpersonal risk management
· Jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others

The diagnosis often reveals multiple dimensions of the “presented problem” but may still be inadequate data to define what the solution could be. As a consultant to such teams HR/OD professionals will have to live with this ambiguity.

However it is extremely critical to prepare the leader for change by replaying the data that has been generated through the diagnosis process. The level of acceptance and ownership of data varies, but there are only a very few instances where there has been complete rejection of the data. The subsequent paragraph defines how the consultant prepares the leader for the intervention

5.2- “Setting the Stage” –Preparing the leader of change

This is a critical part of the intervention cycle wherein the consultant prepares the leader, for reflection and change. This happens immediately after the diagnosis and is done on a one to one discussion with the leader of the group. The objective of this discussion is to use the data generated in the diagnosis phase to help the leader introspect on the processes mentioned in paragraph of this paper. It is extremely critical to mirror the data gathered from the diagnosis in an objective manner and give individual feedback to the leader from what has been gathered from the interview.

It is an extremely delicate and complicated process and what has helped the author in ensuring that these discussions meet their stated goals are as follows:

· Sensitivity to the leaders context and role
· Understanding of the business context and the constraints that the environments puts on the leader
· Being objective and not seen or perceived to champion the cause of any party
· Making sure that data and assumptions are clearly delineated

This is the Phase -A of “Setting the Stage” process. The objective of this stage is to make the leader aware of the situation and also dispel the myth that the problem that he simplistically defined (presented problem), may actually not be the problem, which is what we have seen in Example A

Phase-B of the “Setting the Stage” process is to start the reflection and self-dialogue within the leader. The author has tried to encourage the leader in multiple ways to explore the data and offered multiple possibilities in these discussions. A lot of data that is generated in the process of diagnosis has a bearing on the leadership style. In this process it is important to encourage the leader to explore the data from his own perspective and discover how his orientation impact the team and vice versa.

5.3- Designing the stages of the interventions with the leader

It is best to design such interventions in consultation with the leader and in doing so it empowers the leader in making choices about what he would ideally like to achieve in this situation. There have been instances where the leader has been unwilling to make the emotional investment in the process, this is not a unique situation and the advice to fellow professionals would be to disengage in those situations.

While designing the interventions it is important encouraged the leader to lead the sessions by offering to take the interpersonal risk first.

The following design constructs have been used with the different kinds of teams:

Newly Formed Teams

Approach 1

Experiences Exercise -The leader starts with sharing his experiences in life, with instances where he has been most engaged and instances where he has felt low and disengaged. The leader also shares things that he values most and his biases. One must design a template to help the leader reflect and structure his thoughts; this template should force the leader to think on the following lines:

· Instances where the leader has not given somebody a benefit of doubt before arriving to a negative conclusion -Judgmental
· Instances where he has not been able to offer apologies when he knew he was wrong
- Ego
· Instances where he has managed his behavior for effect-posturing

The impact of this exercise with guided facilitation helps in the following manner:

· Establishes the fact that the leader is to not be afraid of losing ‘face’ in front of the team, so that others can take the same risk.
· Create an environment that does not punish vulnerability

Approach 2

Appreciative Inquiry Exercise-The objective of this exercise is to force people to look at the positive aspects of each other’s personality. Each member narrates a story where he has felt most engaged while working for the organization, the story has to be narrated in great detail and based on the story role of the participant in the story the other members are asked to give appreciative/positive feedback on the individual Annexure 2 of this article includes a sample of the appreciative feedback exercise of a newly formed team. The names of the team members have been removed to maintain confidentiality. The objective of this exercise is to get started in the right frame of mind for the intervention and for subsequently working in teams

Subsequent Stages after the first exercise

The subsequent stages of the intervention flow as follows:

· Use data generated from the previous exercises to create a map of synergies amongst individuals
· Allow sharing of personal values and beliefs
· Encourage discussions on what makes successful leadership teams –This can be facilitated by asking the following questions
o What makes leadership teams fail?
o Where do you think that you will be dysfunctional as a team?

· Group Norms- Allow the teams to devise a group norms along multiple dimensions

o Confronting peers when an individual sees divergence from expected group behaviour
o Not being judgemental
o Will question decisions made by others but will not question motives

While these processes are happening within the teams the consultant must be engaged with the leader, observing him, sharing and mirroring data etc. Experience shows that if the processes /steps are followed in spirit then rich data is generated after each session. It is extremely critical to have extensive debriefing sessions with the leader after each day of the intervention and document the key findings on the 3 dimensions mentioned in paragraph 4 above.

Functioning and Cross Functional Teams

There is an approach variance when one deals with teams in existence for sometime. There are biases about individuals and perceptions already built in, in this context it is felt that starting with an experiences exercise or an appreciative enquiry session will be viewed with cynicism and defensiveness. Three design options are available in this case but the author encourages the use of approach 3

Approach 1-Problem Solving and Action Planning

Focus on Group Problem solving processes, which would mean a second level diagnosis of the “real issues” and the root causes of the same. The entire intervention is designed as a problem solving exercise with action items, review milestones etc

Approach 2 –Visioning

Create a vision of the Team and use the data collected to do a reality check (or AS-IS check) on the health of the team and then create an alignment process between the AS-IS and TO-BE

Approach 3- Exploration of Self and Team

This approach would include a realization of self and the impact of each individual’s behavior on the other members and then aggregate these behaviors into a process, which would be impact of interpersonal relationships in the context of the team. Explore emotions and then do a robust visioning process and Group Norm process to integrate the team

The bias towards approach 3 is based on the following premises

In approach 1 there is an element of defensiveness on the part of the individuals and their lack of ownership of the problem, the resolution therefore becomes a mechanical activity wherein milestones are seldom met. The leader does not get enough time to reflect and is pushed to achieve results which further fragment the team

Visioning without the breaking the artificial harmony which exists in many teams creates a low accountability in implementing the vision and becomes an artificial exercise

Critical Success Factors for Approach –3

The critical success factor for approach 3 is the interpersonal feedback sharing process. The risks in this kind of exercise are as follows:

1. In cases where interpersonal relations have degenerated to a great extent people who want to give the feedback find it difficult to engage
2. Individual could be going through the “motions” without adding value to the process
3. Individual getting candid feedback (negative) maybe able to rationalize and move on
4. Some individuals maybe fence sitters (wait and watch) which would discourage others to open up and take interpersonal risks

The consultant should prepare the leader with these issues before the start of the exercise and this process is facilitated by the leader himself, he takes the lead in taking the interpersonal risks and enables his team to do the same. For the leader to be confident to facilitate this session the consultant has to spend a considerable time in the “Setting the Stage” (Paragraph 5.2) process

Group Confrontation

The consultant should have the ability and willingness to be able to confront the group and the individuals based on the data generated during the diagnosis and also during the intervention. The author believes in direct confrontation of the group and dysfunctional behaviours of individuals enables them to generate insights about themselves

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6. Lessons Learnt

In this section key learning’s have been listed, the author feels that these need to be taken into account by anybody who chooses to undertake a BPI engagement as a consultant

· Every leader, team or context is unique, this paper merely talks about generic intervention strategies, it is not a formula that can be used universally. HR/OD professionals need to build superior diagnosis abilities which will help them go deeper and deeper to the current reality of the leader and teams

· Ability to distinguish between facts and assumptions. This is easier said than done, and continues to be a key challenge that the author has faced. The consultant needs to continuously question himself on whether he is getting judgmental, making the wrong assumptions, and designing interventions based on what he can deliver and not what is most suitable for the client

· BPI is not the only solution for issues faced by leaders and their teams, before recommending this approach, the consultant must have the intellectual integrity to make sure that this is the best approach for helping the leader in his current context

· There is no substitute to diagnosis. While this is an important step in the intervention strategy one must also remember that the diagnosis should not become a data collection and confirmation exercise for the hypothesis and assumptions already made by the leader or the consultant

Talent, Meritocracy and National Competitiveness

  • As years pass by India continues to transform itself into the world’s back-office and a preferred destination for off shoring work of all kinds , but slowly and surely we are eroding our competitiveness by eroding a culture of meritocracy !!

    All of us will agree that our recent competitive positioning is based on our ability to produce and manage talent (talent here is used as a very broad concept ...), people who can follow routines efficiently and get work done at half the price than it can be done anywhere else (the cost and efficiency game) . The central premise of our model is that we are smart people, so we can learn, adapt and deliver faster, be it in the IT/ITES or any other form of off shoring.

    The quality of Talent is a function of the education system and the stronger our primary education system, the larger is the talent pool, and therefore greater is our ability to compete with others. As you would expect our political system is blissfully oblivious of the basics and preoccupied by the politics of education rather than viewing education as a basic lever of national competitiveness.

    In the name of empowerment, the HRD Ministry has successfully institutionalized the reservation in institutes for higher education. The rationale provided was that this step is an affirmative action and is aimed at enabling the backward section of society. Not taking sides on the relevance and importance of reservations in today’s context, what is evidently clear is that Mr Singh and his team are taking a short-cut by opening the gates of the temples of learning to people who could not necessarily get there on their own . While the reservations can be seen by some as an important social subsidy (and that’s why political parties like the CPI(M) seem to be backing the concept) , this intervention has far reaching consequences on the culture of meritocracy and some of these consequences are as follows :

    · Changes the basis of competition for entry to academic institutions, erodes the position that the IIT’s and IIM’s hold internationally.
    · Increases in the number of seats without a commensurate investment in the infrastructure of the institute reduces academic standards
    · Creates a fundamental disbelief on the notion of meritocracy – I am rewarded by a seat because of my birth and not because of who I am.

    Those of us who work in organizations surely know that the competitiveness of business is also greatly eroded if meritocracy is not rewarded, organizations which do not have a culture of meritocracy perish and those that do grow and prosper. This holds true for Nations as well

    Furthermore the Government has collected thousands of crores through the Education Cess route and I am told that they have not found any meaningful use for the same. One would believe that a nation like ours is resource starved and hence we cant do much to improve our education system, however contrary to this belief we have collected enough cash in the form of taxes and now we need to do something very rapidly. Unfortunately our education policy makers seem to have no will to do something about it …they are of course busy managing their political bosses and their agenda .

    I would grant our policy makers for public education with the intelligence although they mostly look senile to understand that the problem lies with the school system and the solution is not by giving reservations to the OBC’s , SC’s and ST’s , but what beats me is that the government does not have the will to work on issues which are important for the existence of the very nation.