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Role of HR post Covid crisis

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What could be the role of HR in the post Covid scenario ? This is a question, which may be lurking in the minds of many people. I would state that HR could evolve their “Ten Commandments” post the Covid crisis is over and employees gradually trickle back to the workplace.

1. Job Security : In the post Covid scenario, most employees would be worried about their jobs. This would mean a lurking fear that their organisations would have lost revenue for more than a few months and this could result in job losses for many. So, the first duty of HR could be to make the CEO communicate to all employees how they plan to get over this crisis and assure employees at all levels that they would not lose their jobs.

2. New Workplace : The new workplace will have a new normal. It will not be the same place of work like in the past. Apart from physical sanitisation of everything, there would be silence and loneliness at the workplace. There is need to make people adapt to this new work environment through effective communication and counselling by the managers and leaders at all levels.

3. Cost optimisation : While HR leaders should try their best to save jobs, they could be the champions of cost reduction efforts in the organisation. They could engage with employees at all levels and enable formation of teams so that cost reduction is in everybody’s radar and the organisations are able to make up for the losses incurred by this pandemic.

4. Employee engagement : In the post Covid scenario, employee engagement actions become all the more critical. It is important to make employees adapt to the new workplace and at the same time realise that we need to continue to serve our customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders and all other stakeholders as we did before.

5. Work from anywhere : While the Covid crisis forced organisations and employees to adapt to the work from home option, it may be an opportunity for HR in organisations to enable employees to work from anywhere. This means no fixed workstations, laptops for everyone and they could work from any office or any place of their choice in the future.

6. Re-engineering processes : This is a great opportunity for HR to facilitate all the functions in the organisation to challenge all their existing processes and eliminate unwanted ones, simplify those needed and automate wherever possible. The shop-floor could also be digitised and automated so as to minimise human interface in routine operations and use employees for human value addition, which robots or machines cannot do like listening to and attending to customer grievances.

7. Rewrite the HR manual : Just like the Constitution of a nation gets amended from time to time based on the needs of the nation, this is a great opportunity in the history of the organisation to re-write its HR manual. It may be helpful to keep it simple, eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and all paper work if possible.

8. Productivity : While many of us may not realise that India still has one of the lowest labour costs in the world but our productivity is not on par with the best in the world. This reset post Covid gives us an opportunity to rejig our productivity levels at the shop floor, in our offices and also in all our processes with suppliers and customers. For eg. is it possible for all employees to deal with all HR processes through their mobile phones and eliminate all paper work in the future.

9. Digitalisation : The ability to go digital in all aspects of work is a real possibility in the new workplace. Sales can happen online and service can be remotely handled. This means manufacturing can be digitilalised and automated and so can be all other processes. If banks can provide all their services through digital means so can all other organisations and this is the best time to transition and go digital, wherever feasible.

10. Employee Health & Safety : This crisis provides the best opportunity for organisations to rewrite its health and safety standards. It is not only physical health but mental and emotional health and wellness, which will get tested post this crisis. So , it is the best time for organisations to prepare for similar unknown crises in the future.

While I may not have listed down all possible things, which HR leaders could do post this crisis, I have focussed on the most important and called them the “Ten commandments for HR”.

Do let me know if I have missed out anything ? You can make your own “Ten commandments for HR” based on the needs of your own organisation.

S Ramesh Shankar

12th May 2020

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Relearning from childhood…

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Learning is a life long journey. I was sitting with my grandson, who is 7 years old. He asked me if I knew how to use Instagram on my phone. I said yes. He asked me if I could take a photo of his with the whiskers of a rabbit. I told him that I did know how to do it. He readily agreed to teach me.

He advised me to open the app on my phone. He then showed me as to how change the setting on the phone and then take a selfie as in the photo above. I was quite stunned. It was great learning to use a mobile app from a 7 year old.

As children, we are inquisitive and curious. We learn continually by observing others and things around us. When I asked him as to how did he learn it – he said that he saw my son doing the same on his phone. As we grow up in life, we possibly forget to be curious. Our inquisitiveness is buried within us. We feel shy to ask questions and thereby our learning retards.

It is time to look back and learn from childhood. If we cannot turn the clock back, we can observe young kids around us and learn from them. Another incident made me realise how simple observation can be of great learning value. My grand son was at home for his school vacation. We were playing with each other. Then he wanted to download a few games on my iPad.

I gave him my iPad and enquired which games he would like download. He glanced through the app and shortlisted a few. When I was about to download, he told not to do so. He informed me that every app has a preview. We should preview the game and only if it is interesting, we should download the app. It would otherwise be waste of money. I could not believe that a young kid of 7 years could be so knowledgable on how to carefully download game apps from the internet without wasting money.

To be honest I was not aware of it. This helps learn an important lesson in life. We all are good learners as kids. We observer everything around us and learn. We do not hesitate to ask questions when in doubt. As we grow up our observations skills fades away and hence may be our learning ability also diminishes. We are scared of asking questions when we do not know so as to hide our ignorance rather than learn from others who know.

It is time to reflect. It is time rekindle the child in us. It is time ask questions of curiosity from everyone around us including kids. It is never too late to change. It is also never too late to unlearn, learn and relearn.

Time to restart is today ?

S Ramesh Shankar

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Joy of giving…

I have always be in awe of our festivals in India. Diwali is no exception. Apart from lights and crackers, one recalls Diwali with fond memories because the entire family got together once in a year and celebrated together. We got up early at dawn and had an oil bath before sunrise and enjoyed all the sweets and savouries all day.

Today I got a new insight on Diwali. It is celebrated in India with two different beliefs in the northern and southern part of the country. In the north, people believe that Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after his 14 years in the forests and hence is welcomed back with lights and crackers. In the South, it is believed that Lord Krishna killed a ghost by name Narakaasura on this day in Dwaraka Yuga.

The new insight I got today is from a forward about the story of Narakaasura and the lessons for all of us. It is believed that Narakaasura is the “I” or ego residing in all of us as humans. When Lord Krishna killed Narakaasura, he eliminated our ego and released more than 16000 evils in us. So the next day on amavasya we pray to Godess Lakshmi to lead us to the right path.

Every ritual in Hindu religion and so in other religions has a deep insight for all of us. We generally get swayed by the rituals and start believing that they are of no use and most of us including me give up rituals because they serve no human purpose. I have been no exception. Now that I have all the time in the world, I am able to reflect and get new insights into these rituals.

Another interesting belief that we should clean our home and get rid of all the unwanted things. This is also symbolic that God wants us to give up all that is not necessary and take up the good things in life.

It is also enshrined in our religions that the best way to serve God is to serve the human kind. If we give more, we get more. If we are content with what we have, God always gives us more than what we need. This is the challenge for all of us. How much is enough – is a question difficult to ask and answer for oneself ?

I have admired people who give away without expecting anything in return. Recently another friend forwarded a message with a great insight. It was a couplet from Rahim. When Tulsidas looked at Rahim donating, he found his eyes looked at the ground and so asked him ” O great person, where have you learnt this amazing way of giving ? “. As your hands rise ( to give), your eyes look down. “. Rahim replies – “. The Giver is someone else ( God Almighty), giving day and night. The world has a misconception that I am the giver. So, I lower my eyes in embarrassment. ”

The best people I have met in life are those who give unconditionally. They are anonymous most of the times and recipient does not know that they are the donors. They give because they have a surplus and they are grateful to the Almighty for it and want to thank him for the generosity bestowed on them.

It is like the exotic orchid in the photo above, given my colleagues at work, which are blooming because of their unconditional love.

This blog a salute from my side to all the wonderful people who have made me what I am today. They have given me support, advice, money and love unconditionally. I can never ever return their favour in any form. I promise to give back without expecting anything in return as I bow in gratitude to them.

S Ramesh Shankar

27th October 2019

The flame

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A flame ignites our imagination. I have always wondered what does “fire” consist of. I have not found an answer as yet. I was a student of chemistry but still could not understand it. One thing I have understood is that fire generates light and heat.

A flame could mean different things for different people and in different contexts. Lets start with a teenager or an young adult. A flame could mean a person of the opposite sex, who ignites the passion in this person.

A villager may look at a flame as a source of fuel to cook food or keep himself warm during winters. It could also be significant from a religious perspective too. The flame in the forest could mean loss of life or livelihood.

The flame is a symbol of religious significance for a Hindu. A flame is burnt every day by the Hindus at homes and in temples to worship God. It is also used in religious ceremonies to offer our salutations to God. A flame is God in shapeless form.

When a building or a factory is in flames it is destructive. It can lead to loss of lives, property and livelihood. But a spark neglected may light the flame. This could be a good lesson in life. Are we neglecting sparks in our lives, which may lead to flames and ultimately destroy our lives and livelihood.

A flame is also a symbol of God in churches and other religious institutions. This symbolises that all religions lead us to the same destination. In my view, various religions are different paths leading us to the same God. We may call God by different names but the end is the same.

One of the interesting aspects of the flame is that it has no bias. It provides light to everyone with equal measure. If you tamper with it, it may burn you without any discrimination. It does not discriminate between the haves and have nots. One lesson the flame teaches us is to be unbiased in all our dealings in life.

Another interesting dimension of a flame is that it gives heat and light without expecting anything in return. This is a good quality to imbibe. It may be worthwhile to attempt giving to others without expecting anything in return. It is like the saying that the left hand should not know what the right hand is giving.

In the darkness of night, a flame can be the only source of light when electric power may also fail. It is interesting that man made sources of power and light are not always dependable but flame is. This shows that nature is beyond human imagination and we need to protect and preserve nature.

There is also a flame within us. We may call it our spirit or our soul. It keeps us ignited and always on our toes. It helps us to distinguish between the right and the wrong provided we are willing to listen to this internal flame.

Let the flame be lighted within us always.

S Ramesh Shankar

The mystery

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Life and death – both seem mysteries to me. One may or may not believe in God or a super power but has to believe that life and death are not easy to understand even today. Nobody can predict who will be born in which family and neither anyone can predict who will die when.

Life itself is a mystery for me. It unfolds every day like a plant growing from the seed. We are born into a family and lead life in different ways as we grow up. We cannot be sure where we will study, work, marry or settle in life.

One may call it destiny while others call it fate. Life has its unique ways of taking us to places where we never believed we will go. It also has its unique ways to help us stay grounded when we start floating in the air.

While astrologers may predict your future based on horoscope and astrological signs, it is still a mystery, which unfolds at its own pace. While some of the predictions may come true, others may take you by surprise.

None of us can be sure where we will be born and what type of life we will lead. We know of kids born in homes of millionaires leading a pauper’s life and vice versa. While I believe we determine our destiny by our hard work and deeds, it is still an unpredictable journey and mystery to that extent.

If we look at death, it is equally mysterious. The only definite thing of life is that both birth and death happens to everyone. Anyone who is born has to die some day. But, we can neither predict life nor death for anyone. It is an elusive mystery for mankind.

None of us can predict who will die when. Neither age nor health could really determine death. I know of people who have suffered life threatening diseases and even doctors had predicted a short life for them but lived for decades beyond those predictions. On the other hand, healthy people living a decent life suddenly die as if they have finished their journey in a hurry.

Apart from birth and death, we face many other mysteries in life. We meet people whom we would have never imagined. We visit places, which we only dreamt of. We may even end up marrying someone, whom we never intended.

Life is fun when it is a mystery. Some of us are stunned by the mystery of life while others may enjoy the unknown journey. In my view, it is worth exploring life as it happens to us. Let the mystery resolve as it evolves. The more unpredictable life is the more adventurous it is likely to be. Life would be boring if we are aware of the what is in store for us in the future.

What the two parrots are talking (as in the photo above) will always be a mystery !

I am not a big fan of mystery movies but enjoy life as it comes. I am game for any adventure in life and am willing to take the risks. Let us take every day as it comes and enjoy the unknown as it unfolds in front of us.

Let life be an unknown mystery.

S Ramesh Shankar

The touch…

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A touch can mean many things to many people. The mother’s touch can mean a world to a child. A father’s pat could mean recognition for others. A partner’s touch could kindle romance between couples. An opponents touch could be a fowl in a soccer field.

So the same touch could mean different things to different people in different contexts. Today kids in school are taught about “good touch” and ” bad touch”. This is because it is necessary to recognise the intent of the touch. As an adult, we are able to make our judgement in most cases but kids get misled by inappropriate touches.

In some contexts, a touch is very effective to soothe a person. For example when a person is bereaved of a close friend, relative or even a pet a warm hug can help console a person. On the other hand, when a person wants to be left alone, a touch could intrude into their privacy.

We need to understand the culture and values of the people around us to use touch appropriately in our dealing with them. While one can be liberal with family members and friends as we understand them and they do the same. But when we use touch as a means of communication or conveying our feelings with others we need to understand how they perceive it in a particular context before we use it.

Even within the family, we need to understand how touch is perceived by people around us. While a warm hug is considered appropriate in some families, it may not be so in others. Even shaking hands between men and women is appropriate in some cultures and not in others.

A child’s touch is always comforting to a mother as in the photo above.

Even in cultures, where touch is considered appropriate while communicating with others, there may be individuals who are not comfortable with touch. Hence, it is important to use touch only after we understand the other person well and their culture.

Touch is also used as therapy to cure some illnesses. A massage is a common use of touch especially in Ayurveda for curing many types of illnesses. However, it is used only by trained therapists who know to use them appropriately with the right kind of pressure on the body. If inappropriately used, it could lead to more problems than solutions.

Even animals love touch as an expression of emotions. Dogs feel loved and cared when they are touched. However, if we end up touching a poisonous snake, we may end up being bitten. It is important to realise that we need to know how the animal will react to our touch before we touch them.

Humans are no different. While one person may feel loved and cared, the other person may feel hurt by the same touch. Hence it is critical to understand people and cultures before touching anyone around us.

Let us learn to touch appropriately.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th May 2018

Me & You

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Life is an interaction between individuals. We tend to generalise things and blame institutions around us for our state of affairs. Lets start with our family. A family is a social institution of well knit members . A family is not a physical house or our material belongings.

But it is unfortunate that many families end up in courts over property rights or to claim share of their wealth. They do not realise that family is the network of human relationships. It has to be enjoyed through love and sharing only. No amount of wealth can bring joy and happiness to family members if we are reluctant to share joy with each other.

Similarly, an organisation is not a physical building, factory or a set of computers. An organisation is a network of people working in it. It is the quality and richness of their relationships, which determines the culture of that organisation. Factories may come and go, buildings could be rented or leased but it is the people working there who make all the difference to the effectiveness of the organisation. The sooner we realise it as leaders the better the chances of success of the organisation.

It is equally true for a nation. The world’s wealthiest nation is the not the happiest country in the world. If money could buy everything in life, then the wealthiest nations should have been the happiest. It is not so because happiness is an index of our quality of relationships.

Interestingly most of us as individuals focus more on ourselves than on others. We want to acquire material wealth in all possible forms and at the shortest possible time. As we do this, we may not be bothered much about our relationships around us. We forget to nurture even our family relationships.

This nature continues and we are least bothered about the people around us. We start believing that our wealth can get us everything and anything in life. It is only when a crisis( like the current pandemic) hits us, do we realise the value of relationships and other people in our lives. If God forbid, we fall sick and get hospitalised, we look for friends and relatives to nurture us.

This brings us to the basic need to value life and relationships in life. The focus has to move from “ME” to “WE”. While it is human to accumulate wealth and focus on self, the sooner we realise the existence of other human beings around us and value them, the better it is for us.

Human interactions are always between two individuals and not with a statute or an inanimate object as in the photo above.

This reflection may help families, societies and even nations to prosper. The reason could be that the focus is on building relationships and spreading happiness rather than competing with each other to accumulate more wealth and at many times at the cost of other families, societies or nations.

Life comes a full circle. The realisation that happiness in life is based on the quality of our relationships rather than our wealth will make us reflect. This reflection may help us change course and improve the quality of our lives.

Our new year resolution can be – ” How many people can I make happier every day in the new year ?”

Lets reflect today.

S Ramesh Shankar

Appearances may be deceptive

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The other day I met a family in the lounge of an airport. It was a man, his spouse and two kids. The man was wearing a religious mark on his forehead and looked very spiritual. But as soon as we entered the lounge, this person started consuming alcohol and other beverages like the other mortals around him.

I have nothing against his consuming alcohol or any other beverage. Ultimately, it is his personal choice and preference and nobody is entitled to comment on it. But, what caught my eye is that the appearance of a person may be deceptive at times.

This man looked very spiritual and one believes that a person of this type may not consume alcohol. This could either be our mindset or underlying my hypothesis that appearances may be deceptive.

I met another family in a restaurant. They looked from the lower economic strata of society but were doling out money to everyone. Sometimes physical appearance can be misleading and you form opinions about people, which may not reflect reality.

I have met people of different hues in life and generally noticed that appearances are indeed sometimes deceptive. A person may look calm and serene in appearance but may be short tempered and hotty in his disposition.

The interesting aspect to understand as to why this happens as we grow up in life. As a kid, all of us are spontaneous and our appearance will be symptomatic of our moods. One can easily make up the emotions of a kid with the appearance on her face. On the other hand, as we grow up we possibly try to camouflage our emotions and try to hide reality from the world.

This could be because we are conditioned to behave in a particular way in a particular situation. Any dissonance is considered deviant. This then gets reinforced in our psyche and then becomes a way of life. We start believing that we have to smile at the world even if we are in distress.

Of course it may be true that some people are more dramatic than others. They are good in their histrionic skills and hence can act different from what they are feeling inside. This may be more natural for some than others. My belief is that is difficult to have an internal state of emotions and express something else on the face. But that is the life which appears around us.

While it may be true that all of us try to hide our emotions sometimes, it may be desirable to express ourselves as we feel. This may be easier than done. However, the more we are able to practise, the lesser dissonance we may have in life.

As in the photo, Niagara Falls may look cool on a cloudy day. But it may not be safe to try and swim under the falls even when it is calm. Appearance can be deceptive.

Personal credibility in life is all about predictability. If our face cannot predict our emotions, then others may consider us less reliable. Hence, it is fair to state that face is an index of the mind. The more we are predictable the better for us and for all the people around us.

Let our appearance reflect the reality within us.

S Ramesh Shankar

The ecstasy and agony of working as an HR professional in organizations today

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I became an HR professional by choice and not by chance. Now, if I look back at my career it has been a mix of ecstasy and agony at different periods of time. Both the organization and the environment contributes to it. But, I suppose it has been up to me to convert every agony into an ecstasy by creating opportunities for myself.

Let me reflect on some events of both agony and ecstasy to make my point. The first instance was more than three and a half decades back. I was posted to an iron ore mine more than 100 km away from a steel plant in central India. The joy of being selected into a public sector steel giant vanished after my training was over and I was posted to the mines. Within the first 48 hours I was gheraoed by the unions for more than 24 hours. It was agony at its worst, to say the least. However supporting managers and a great team helped me to convert this agony into a valuable learning experience. Even today, I am able to work collaboratively with unions and win their trust based on this experience.

The next big experience was in an automobile company more than two decades back. We had a big dream to evolve a vision and involve all employees in the change process. This was one of my best learning experiences of managing change and successfully implementing it. We introduced the “large scale interactive process, wherein we involved all the 1000 employees working for that business to evolve a common vision, understand where we were, where we wanted to go in 5 years and how do we get there by implementing the action steps. It was one of my most ecstatic moments as an HR professional. I have been practicing this learning even today to involve a large group of employees and implement real time strategic change efforts successfully.

About a decade and half back at an FMCG company I learnt the art of building trust. We had lost the trust of our employees and management lacked personal credibility. Again, although it was a crisis like situation, the support of a new enlightened management team helped us to re build that trust and gain employees’ confidence back over three years. Yet another situation of anxiety converted into an opportunity.

Today I work for a MNC. As a HR professional, I have learnt that we can convert an organizational crisis into an opportunity. Our customers were unhappy with the company. We worked with the management team and launched a “Customer first” intervention and trained more than 8000 employees to win customer confidence back. In this process, we not only earned customer loyalty but trebled our customer engagement scores. This has been one of my most gratifying experiences in HR to make a direct positive impact on our end customers.

Another learning experience in my current organization has been transforming our relationship with our unions. Although, we have internal unions, we had a evolved a love hate relationship resulting in at least one labour case filed by our union every month against us. We worked on this issue in a very systematic manner through establishing communication channels, reviewing all pending disputes in a fair manner and mutually withdrawing court cases and settling them through bilateral discussions. This has resulted in zero court cases filed in the last three years. This has been possible only due to objective support of both the union and management representatives.

All the above experiential learnings have taught me one lesson. Every crisis is an opportunity. As an HR professional, we cannot expect that our career journey will be filled with roses. It is always thorns and roses. It is up to us to convert every thorn into a rose by working on it.

One thing is true in today’s organization for all of us. What I learnt yesterday may be useful today. but may not make me a winner tomorrow in the market place. The rapid transformation of technologies and its impact on people, processes and organizations will have a huge impact on the role of HR.

One major impact I can foresee today is that although technology has provided multiple channels to efficiently communicate with people around the world in seconds, it has not enabled the effectiveness in the human connectedness. We may have a landline, two mobile phones, a tablet, video conferencing and IP calling facilities today but we do not talk to each other and understand each other as human beings. While I am a big fan of technology, I am equally concerned about the human alienation and loneliness within families, organizations and societies. This is a a big challenge for the HR professional to address since it will have impact on relationships within and outside the organization.

The generational shift will have its own consequences. Our ability to manage and balance multiple generations will be a strategic advantage for organization if HR is able to plan optimal interventions. Further, the VUCA world will challenge business models and impact the future of work. In my assessment, this will get impacted in five distinct spheres – work, skills, space, technology and life. All this will mean leaders have to adapt their styles to manage these radical shifts in organizational mindset of employees. HR has to partner employee and co create the future together with them and their manager in a digitized world of the future.

Diversity & inclusion will be an added dimension as a challenge to the HR function. It will be expected that the HR function facilitates diversity and inclusion as a culture in the organization of tomorrow as it is no longer a fad but a strategic advantage for better business outcomes.

As in the photo above, when five girls join the shop floor of your digital factory, you feel diversity is in action and not a slogan anymore.

One vital question for the HR professional today could be the survival of the function itself? Some thought leaders are questioning the need and survival of the HR function in the future world. I would think that as long as human beings exist, HR function will exist. However, tomorrow if an organization is going to be run by robots and AI then HR function may not exist. Having said that, it is important that HR function continually adds value to the business to ensure it is future proof.

Today’s environment is changing even before we realize it. Data analytics may alter business models and decisions. Cloud computing and artificial intelligence may crunch response times. Internet of things and connected devices may radically transform the way we experience life today. But human emotions and empathy will remain. It is up to us to anticipate this change and thrive on the chaos and convert every agony into an ecstasy by empathizing with our employees, suppliers and customers.

Every agony when reversed becomes an ecstasy.

The choice is ours.

S Ramesh Shankar

Everyone is different…

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I have always believed that every human being is different and we need to respect it. We either tend to expect a replica of ourselves in others or want them to do what we think is success as defined by us in life.

This starts from childhood. As parents, we want every child to excel in academics. Further, we want the child to excel in subjects which we think is good for them. We tend to believe and reinforce that if the child does not excel in academia, the child is doomed in life.

This further gets accentuated in our academic institutions. Children opt for subjects more out of parental or peer pressure and may not be really enjoying studying them. When they do not do well, teachers tend to believe that the student to be unfit in their class. If every student is equally brilliant in every subject or activity in the class then the role of parents and teachers may become redundant.

Why do we tend to put everyone in a spot ? We do not realise that sometimes we end up putting round objects in a square hole and vice versa. For eg, a child good in sports could be encouraged to excel in sports rather than cram science or maths. Similarly a talented artist could be enabled to display and develop their histrionic skills rather than memorise history.

After home and school, this tendency spreads to the organisation sphere. A manager tends to expect the same performance level from every team member. On the other hand, a leader recognises that every individual is unique and is bestowed with different talents. So, while a manger treats everyone with the same wand, a leader brings out the best in every individual by them giving differential opportunities to excel.

The tendency to typecast people starts at home, spreads to educational institutions, organisations and finally to society. We find it difficult to accept people with alternate talents. If someone in our neighbourhood does not want to enter an academic institution for scholastic studies but wants to thrive on their innate talent we tend to brand them as an outlier in society.

It is time to wake up. It is time to recognise that all of us are different. Each of us are born with innate talent to do different things. It is the ability of our parents, teachers and managers to bring out the best in us. If someone is not able to tap in the talent in us, it reflects more in their inability than our ability.

Each of us have the potential to get an Oscar in the Dolby theatre (as in the photo above). We need to discover the field in which we have the potential and work hard to earn an Oscar in that field.

I have met parents, teachers and managers who do this very effectively. They do not treat every individual alike. They recognise that each of us is a talent and need to be given the space and opportunity to excel in our own way. They are not judgemental and are willing to take the risk with us as individuals. We need to practise the same with our children and colleagues at work.

It is time to realise that everyone is unique and will be that way. We need to bring out the best in everyone through our actions.

S Ramesh Shankar

8th July 2018

Leadership in a digital age

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Leadership is a challenge for every leader every day. The challenges of leadership have changed over time. It is not only the people you lead but the environment in which you lead determines your style.

I wanted to reflect on what will leadership challenge look like in the digital age of the future. I explored it from five different angles – work, skills, technology, space and life. I then examined how a leader could deal with the challenges in each area.

Work – Let us explore as to how the world of work will change over time. The first and foremost distinction will be that the line between work and home will blur. People may work from anywhere and will not be comfortable with drawing distinct lines between home and work. They would prefer flexible working hours. An employee’s needs, wants and expectations from work will change. One cannot motivate employees by money alone. Purpose and values may be be more important than money. Life long employment will be history.

Skills – The skills acquired by a person will determine their value, not age or experience. Employees will tend to own their career and skills as they would like to be at the steering wheel at all times, not their boss or others. Automation and AI may make skills redundant sooner than expected. The only differentiator human beings may add to skills will be emotions.

Technology – Leaders have to continually master technology to have the cutting edge with their teams. Artificial intelligence and technology will replace routine jobs. Human beings need to add value with resonating emotions. Collaboration and co creation will become a way of life. Social good will overtake organisational selfishness.

Space – The cabins in offices will disappear. Work environment will embrace open architecture. Hierarchy will be a thing of the past and cross functional teams will drive organisations. Organisation boundaries will merge. People may work in multiple organisations and are committed more to their profession than to any organisation. Dress codes will be determined by individuals and not organisations. Formals will give way to casuals as comfort rather than impressionistic dressing will be the norm.

Life – Family as an institution may disintegrate or even get redefined. Society will evolve as a network of individuals rather than families and communities. Relationships get established through social media than real ones. Marriage as an institution may break down or change. This may impact relationships within and between families and communities. Stress will manifest in complex ways. As human interactions minimise, social interactions will increase with the use of technology. This means while technological connectedness may increase due to social media, bots, AI etc, human relatedness may decrease due to limited face to face interactions. Values have become relative as compared to absolute in the past. It is no longer black and white. It is grey most of the time and subject to interpretation.

So, if we look at leadership from these angles – work, skills, technology, space and life, we will understand that leadership in a digital age has varied challenges. They need to be dealt with differently from the past. Let us examine each challenge and on how a leader in the digital age can deal with it.

Work – The leader has to to be flexible and an adaptive networker to bring out the best in his people. Without laying rigid guidelines, the leader has to create the space to bring out the best in his team.

Skills – A leader has to be a challenger of their team and at the same time provide continual opportunities to learn and grow. If we can ensure that neither we nor our team members are complacent, we could be a winner.

Technology – A proactive adopter of technology and the latest trends will make a leader deal with the challenges of the digital age in an adaptive manner.

Space – A leader who behaves like a hierarchy less space creator will thrive in the emerging digital age. Our ability to cement collaborative teams to work together will be the differentiator for the future.

Life – A leader of the future has to evolve as an emotional anchor. The break down of family and marriage as institutions in the future will create more stress to the individuals and less coping mechanisms to deal with same. This means that leaders in the future have to be emotional anchors and fill the vacuum created by the emerging social trends. Leaders have to deal with relative value systems as compared to absolute of the past. This means what was considered inappropriate in the past may be considered normal or appropriate in the future. This means the role of listening to one’s conscience will be more important than ever before.

Let us learn to lead in the digital age of the future.

S Ramesh Shankar

8th July 2018

Frustration ?

Spider web

The other day someone told me that he is very frustrated at work. I was reminded of a very important learning early in life which someone shared with me. It defined as Frustration = Achievement – Hope . I thought it was a very powerful equation for life.

We get frustrated when either our achievements are low or our hope is too high. So mathematically speaking, one can get over frustration by either enhancing their achievements or lowering their hope. But, one does realise that life is not all mathematical.

Hence life’s issues cannot always be solved by adjusting variables in an equation. One lesson is for sure that we need to take control of what is happening to our lives. If our achievements are low, we need kick our own backs to find ways and means of improving our performance. On the other hand, if our clouds of hope are unrealistic, we need to tone them down to make them realistic.

Let us delve both on achievements and hope. Lets begin with hope. Hope is our mental creation. An imagination of what is possible in the future for us. We create our hopes and aspirations based on self belief, our own capabilities and what we see around us.

While most of the time, we may have a realistic self assessment of our own capacities , we may get swayed away by what we see around us. For eg. we belong to a lower middle class family and hope to have a car of our own. It is not an unreasonable dream. But we need to prioritise what is important for us in life. It could be kids’ education, a home to live in, a child’s marriage and so on. In such conditions, one needs to recast their aspirations to make them more realistic and postpone the dream of a car.

In real life this is what happens to most of us. We keep dreaming without any foundations and then when we land on Mother Earth with a thud, we feel bad about the consequences. On the other hand, if we keep reviewing and recasting our dreams and make them realistic from time time, this situation is less likely to happen.

Now, lets move to achievements. We all want to be the best. We look at film stars, sports persons or other celebrities and wish we could be like them. We do not realise that many of them have come up in life the hard way. Their life is visible to us only when they make it to the top. Very few of us are born with a silver spoon.

Most successful people in life have made it with sweat and tears. We do not see their toil in their formative years nor do we share their tears. What we see and feel jealous about is their prosperity. We may not realise that this has come to them after many years of toil.

As in the photo above, we may admire the geometrical beauty of the spider’s web after it is completed but do not see how many times it is damaged for various reasons before the spider does it all over again. A lesson from nature on how to manage our frustration and never give up till we achieve our goal.

During challenges like the pandemic, our frustration tolerance levels will be tested to the hilt. But it is the strong willed who will get over it with aplomb.

It may be time to introspect and ask oneself – Do I need to enhance my achievements or balance my hope ? The answers are within ourselves. We need not externalise the issues. We have a tendency to blame the world, our education system , workplace, bosses or even our family or friends for our non performance. This may not be the reality. We need to hit the reality buttons in life and then life may dramatically change for the better for us.

Time to reset.

S Ramesh Shankar

30th August 2020

Bully leaders …

It was the Festival of Lights today morning in India. One of my young colleagues messaged me that she was upset and wanted to share something. She felt guilty that she may spoil my festival day. I encouraged her to share since I as a leader learn more by listening to others.

She then explained how she was upset with some leaders, who behave rudely and treat her very badly. She further enquired if I could write on how to cope with such bully leaders at work. I listened to her patiently and she appeared relieved. I thanked her for giving me yet another idea to write a blog on a subject, which may help youngsters to cope.

I have come across leaders right through my career, who have thrive on bullying others. Their behaviour is atrocious and the less said about it the better. However, the interesting thing is that such leaders do not realise how much their behaviour and language impacts others. They think they can get away with such behaviour right through their career.

Some of them also think that if they are successful in their career or competent in their field of operation, they have the license to behave rudely with others. This is neither true nor desirable. Every leader needs to realise that their rudeness will not get them anywhere. While they can get away with their ill behaviour with their team members, it does catch up with them at some stage of their career.

I have always believed that while we can build competence in people, it is difficult to change behaviours. It is important for all of us to realise that our behaviour defines our personality. People do not remember our functional competence but always remember the way we made them feel. The earlier we realise this, the better it is for us to grow and evolve as a respected leader.

It is important for organisations to focus on leadership behaviours. Many organisations are willing to tolerate bad behaviour of leaders if they are able to deliver on their results. This may harm the organisation more in the long run than they may realise. While nobody would like to work with such leaders, their results are also not sustainable in the long terms since their poor behaviour will come in the way some time or the other in their career.

The damage Bully leaders can cause on their team members is irreparable. While a physical injury can get cured, a mental blot does not go away so easily. Such leaders impact the confidence of their team members. Their behaviour ruins their self esteem and in turn demoralises them. It is for senior leaders and HR in every organisation to keep an eye of such leaders and deal with their behaviour immediately. The earlier we correct their behaviour, the better it is for them and for their team members.

One of the questions asked is – “how to cope with such leaders ?”. While we may not be able to avoid such leaders, since many of us cannot choose our bosses, we can learn to cope with them. It is important to give feedback to such leaders privately and in a polite and firm manner that their behaviour is demoralising. It may be worthwhile to speak to your HR partner so that they can help these leaders by giving feedback on behalf of employees. It may also help to keep a social distance from theses leaders and not participate very actively in their projects. This will be a good sign for such leaders that many team members are not keen to work with them and hopefully this will also be a significant feedback to them.

Another important lesson I have learnt is that it is easier to change our behaviour rather than trying to change others. We need to learn to be courteous to such leaders but at the same time make it clear in a polite way that rude behaviour is not acceptable to us. It may be easier said than done. But, in life, the most difficult challenges are this way. We need to learn to catch the bull by the horns or else the bulls will continue to rampage our lives and we may be the losers.

Lastly, it is important to realise that all of us are also leaders in our own right. We need to learn only the good things from such leaders. After all everyone has some good qualities. If we learn how to bully others, it may harm us more than help us. We need to learn that bullying as a leader is neither an acceptable trait nor a desirable one.

If leaders behave this way, there is no difference between a bullying monkey and the leader’s behaviour. I would rather say that comparing such leaders with the monkey may be an insult to the monkey.

It is time to stand up to such behaviour and have “zero tolerance” just like we would do to company values like ethics, safety and compliance.

Time to start is now, not even today.

S Ramesh Shankar

14th Nov 2020