Thursday, November 3, 2011

HRDe' sign

Disclaimer: Thoughts in this article are purely my personal ones. Could be goofy or plain wrong too. Have nothing to do with the organizations that I work with or have worked with in the past....

Ever heard about the company that did not layoff employees during a down-sizing, but got the target employees together to start a new product?...

….how about the company that lets young fathers work in US shifts from home so that they can help with changing nappies?

… or hires gifted individuals for specific roles like front office or voice support

By the way, what was that latest gadget from Apple that you wished you owned? Liked the design? Me too! Ever noticed that hardly do Apple’s products have a stamp of Apple’s name on the face of the gadget? They have the logo only on the back. That too, a logo, not the name. Maybe a reason that people like to own an Apple. Maybe they do not get the feeling that they are being owned or subsumed by a large brand. They own an Apple product and it becomes a part of their identity.

How often did you join a new organization and instantly feel that the organization belonged to you? Yes, the organization belonged to you.

Now look around. You will hear 99.9% of the companies wanting the employees having commitment to the organization. Almost sounds like the company owns the employee! Wow! All the best!

I have worked in organizations where any employee leaving would always say that he is going out for some different experience, but would want to be back. There are others where the employee invited and paid for his own send off party – out of the sheer happiness of getting away!

Design comes from deep yearnings of the human within. It comes from what the person intuitively wants. That little sensing of want. Give it a little outlet in the product that is being made and you have a bond instantly formed. In a way, it is like working with a highly empathetic coach. You like it instantly! It’s exactly what you wanted or thought about at the “0-“ moment.

Now think of the way HR departments work and expect you to work. Policies are long documents full of clauses. Changing your own data on the organization’s systems requires workflow approvals. Its more important to attend training – nobody is really bothered how much you changed. Performance management systems have a quarterly cycle – actual goals change everyday! Compensation management is based on 50th percentile, nobody wants to hire 50th percentile talent though! When hiring, companies look at average time spent in each of the earlier companies -  aren’t they adding to that? (what they want is predictability of staying I guess, somehow they believe that past behaviour will only replicate itself)

HRDe’sign is all about doing things that help people and organizations get even more successful. If you want to hire people to stay and perform, do you know the characteristics of such people already in your organization? Or, do you want stayers, or, performers? Do IT services companies train project managers in selling skills? (much of the growth happens through them in reality). Before complaining about the absolute lack of available talent, have they institutionalized mentoring and on the job training?

First Principles of HRDe’sign
  1. Do not do it unless there is a will by the leadership
  2. Spend time contracting and clarifying.
  3. Understand what makes and breaks that business
  4. Have a human approach – humans come first. Trust them.
  5. Find out who are the final customers
  6. Use principles of brain functioning and innovation to create small successes. 
  7. Keep it simple.
  8. Make employees the sellers of HRDe’sign
  9. Devolve the HR function to the people managers
  10. Fine tune based on intuition (Steve Jobs didn't conduct customer surveys, I guess?)
  11.  Move on to larger improvements. Make yourself redundant.

Try it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Setting up a L&D department...

If you are setting up a L&D department in your organization:

1. Have a robust database structure in place
2. Include HR business partners as part time trainers.
3. Finalize what you want to achieve - fun & entertainment or behaviour change
4. Do not hire full time trainers - you can hire them from vendors and keep changing them.
5. Ensure that your team members consult with the business (do not consult only with HRBPs - it is a game of Chinese whispers then!)
6. Find out one large business priority that can be impacted through behaviour change (sales skills for project mgrs, respect from senior mgmt, etc)
7. Hire coaches and facilitators who can also train. Human processes are paramount.
8. Invest on e-learning - dovetail all trainings with e-learning
9. Stop measuring happiness levels after training. Only the trainer will improve.
10. Freely share knowledge, the more you share, the more will you be successfull.

Happy Diwali!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Real time coaching for success

In my career, I have had the good fortune of program managing a few On the Job Training (OJT) programs for business groups that support clients by receiving calls and providing solutions. 

A well known practice that exists in such groups is the concept of having a floor-walking coach. What such a coach does is pretty interesting and according to me, directly has a positive impact on business success.

What makes a floor coach so effective?

1. The floor coach is basically 'available' at all times. 
2. She is clear on what falls within her area of help and what doesn't. If she is there to help develop client support and communication skills, she doesn't try to get into business process issues.
3. He comes to the place of the employee. 
4. She monitors employees even when they don't express the need for help.
5. He coaches - primarily asks vs. tells
6. She provides feedback to help the employees get successful

Having worked in R&D, IT services and IT product organizations, I have worked with and facilitated the development of atleast 2000 middle to senior level managers in India. They are wonderful individuals to work with and are, in most cases ready to do better to get better

  • They are usually engineering graduates and  most of them have been successful techies and have coded in the earlier part of their careers. 
  • Most of their people management skills are derived from either role modeling their first manager or more often than not, from "the school of hard knocks".
  • Some of them might have attended a first time leader program in their companies, and once at the workplace, but haven't really been able to practice these skills at the workplace since it might have meant a large amount of change in behaviour at a personal level. The feeling of being a 'phoney' might have sent them packing after one or two tentative trials of new behaviours.

Middle management is the critical surface area where the rubber hits the road. Having a population that is not quite equipped to implement simple tools in feedback, change management and hiring right - is a sure recipe for losing business and people.

I do not think the day is far off when IT services and product organizations have full time behaviour coaches on their rolls. 

  • Someone who is available to managers for help and support. 
  • Someone who doesn't have anything to do with their compensation.
  • Someone who is able to empathise and mirror.
  • Someone who helps them understand change at an emotional level.
  • Someone they can reach out to when they know there is a better way to something.
  • Someone who can help them become more successful.

Such coaches can also be attached to the participants of a program such as matrix management or a 360 degree feedback.

Just to visualize a scenario, imagine that there is a manager whose 360 df has indicated that he needs to give more genuine appreciation. He has a situation where he needs to give appreciation. His first reaction is to handout a 'judgemental' "good job!". As he is about to do that, he remembers something that he discussed with his coach. He takes a moment and reaches out. The coach walks along with him to frame a structured appreciation email (based on a framework such as STAR). The manager uses this and feels good. In short, he has done better to get better.

The basic disconnect in any behaviour change training and development is that it is easy to understand and difficult to implement. A structure of having 'real time workplace' coaches will go a long way in helping managers get even more successful.

Thank you for taking time to read my article.

Happiness. A state of active living.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why child-likeness for creativity?

Prabhakar L. Head HR of the Agri business division at ITC, a well known HR professional, shared his insight with me today on the linkage between child-likeness and creativity. Thanks to him for the much needed 'elbow in the ribs' that got me writing this article.

Child-like behaviours are characterised by a certain spontaenity, staying in touch with one's emotions, an implicit trust in the people around and playfulness in experimenting. The brain is in a 'toward' mode ( when it senses that Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness are all available in the environment.

One way is to work on the external environment such as culture of the organization to ensure these at the workplace. The other approach is the internal approach where the employees can be 'themselves' in a child-like mental frame and they are not judged based on this, but purely on outcomes. This may be quite possible in a product development environment.

So, what does being a child-like state do to the individual? A child doesn't have a high status need as much as an adult. So, as long as the basics are in place, Status is taken care of.

Certainty is possibly not something a child is habituated to - of course - other than the basic routines. Child-likeness means that I am pretty much in the 'here and now' and the certainty need is addressed as well.

Autonomy. Child-likeness doesn't wait for autonomy to be granted. It is assumed as available.

Relatedness. Relationships are created. Belief is that others are relatable and I need to reach out.

Fairness. This could be a tricky situation for adults, but a child-likeness means that I express my displeasure when I think there is a lack of fairness.

With SCARF taken care of, the brain naturally slips into a toward state. This is required for the brain to start concentrating on 'nothing particular', but keeping the solution focus in one's awareness. This leads to a inward looking state of the brain that precedes insights. Insights create deeper awareness, understanding and problem solving which are components of what is finally called creativity.

What can I do as a leader to ensure creativity in my team?

Start by donating $20 to charity everytime you start a sentence with 'but', 'however' or 'No'. Try it for a day. It effectively kills the habit. When you stop using these sentence starters, you start listening without judging. That is a good start as a leader.

You can start being child-like. This means that you need to address your own insecurities that hold you back from being child-like. If you find it difficult, you can take help from a peer or a coach.

Start celebrating. Celebrate, acknowledge, appreciate. Child-likeness requires generosity. The world has enough space for all of us and creativity creates even more space for yourself and for others. When you create space, others reciprocate.

You have fun!

A second career to make your first one a success

When coaching a young successful technical contributor, at the outset it seemed that all was very well. He was respected by his seniors, his peers came to him for advice, he was mentoring youngsters in his team and was earning a neat sum of money. Yet, there was a sense of a region of vacuum in his life. While talking about the best times in his life, he said that he particular had enjoyed a stint in an earlier company when a boss had mentored him in creating open source code. While he continued to be mentored occasionally by the very same gentleman, his eyes flashed when he realized that what he missed was working on open source code.

Needless to say, he devoted an hour to what nourished him deeply and he became a much more engaged and fulfilled professional at work.

Activities such as learning music, dance and even pottery that energize the right brain which is associated with creativity, imagination and emotions - are all encouraged at the workplace off late. Many such activities tend to trigger and give form and shape to a second career, something that is in line with one's calling and thirst. These activities, being more of a voluntary nature, tend to have minimal anxieties of rewards like money and designation. Individuals indulge in them purely for the pleasure that they derive from it.

A simple way to find out what your brain yearns for the most can be found by taking a simple 14 question test. The test is based on the SCARF model of David Rock and I personally found the results pretty agreeable. The assessment is reachable here

You have fun!

Why do we need to have fun to learn?

One undergoes hospitalization, one undergoes surgery, someone undergoes a prison sentence, one is sent to undergo training !!??

This observation by Late Ranjan Acharya caught my attention and combined with my own experience as a facilitator and coach, available literature about how the human brain works, learnings from Dr.Marshall Goldsmith ( and observations from human process work all come together in the following few observations of mine.

The other day, I used an inter office commute and a senior colleague of mine who was in the car with me asked me when the next training program was. He also said that he liked the previous workshop and his co-participants learnt a great deal from it. This was interesting to me. I asked him WHAT made them like the workshop. With a child-like spontaenity, he replied, FUN!

Anyone who has seen Dr. Marshall Goldsmith's video on Feedforward would recall his saying "what is the last word that comes to mind when you think of any feedback or development activity? Fun!" Feedforward works well for this precise reason. Its fast, its about a future you CAN change, not about a past that you can't and its FUN!

The brain is said to have a basic structure known as the reptilian brain said to be associated with more basic functions of survival - such as aggression, etc. You can get more information in the following stellar article (

To put it simply, the brain can have a small positive response to a stimulus or a very LARGE negative 'away' response. The large away response is basically to ensure survival. Being in the away response mode means that the 'fight-freeze-flight' mode is activated and the ability to introspect and learn is reduced tremendously. This means that we can have training happening, but learning is an aspiration in such a situation.

If the outcome from the training is long term positive behaviour change, then such adult learning is basically all about changing beliefs that one holds. Changing beliefs changes the choice one makes in response to situations. This definitely needs that the brain is running in a 'toward' mode.

When anyone is having fun, it means that the brain is in a toward mode! When was the last time you saw someone running away with a dog chasing them and laughing their head off?! Cant happen.

Fun in the classroom requires other areas of SCARF to be taken care of. The facilitator needs to be genuinely humble and curious (Status), the schedule and bio-breaks (Certainity), permission to share freely/take phone calls for emergencies (Autonomy), being human as a facilitator (Relatedness) and ensuring learning justice for the individual (Fairness) set the stage to have fun. Learning. Simple.