If I do it, it’s right, if others do it, it’s not

I find life interesting in many of its dimensions. One of the most fascinating things for me is to observe and study human behaviour. If I do behave in a particular way, it is fine, if others do the same things it is not acceptable. Let me illustrate with some examples. If I get up late from bed, it is ok since I came back home late from a flight and I can justify it. However, if my kids get up late, I will scold them without even asking the reasons for it. Rather, I will term it as indiscipline.

This behaviour is manifest in the family, community, organisations and even in society. If I disrespect someone in the family through use of inappropriate words, it is ok as I am the head of the family. However, the same behaviour by my spouse or my siblings or kids is not acceptable and I blame them for lack of family values.

We can see a group of village elders pulling up the youth for smoking in the village square but when the elders smoke, they are disrespectful of the community norms. I can get away by having long hair or by growing a beard and justify it by some family ritual. When the same is practised by my kids, it is considered indecent.

Organisations are no different. The boss can get away using foul language with his team members. However, when one of the team members uses the same language, it is admonished. Similarly, the manager can come late to office and she has valid reasons for the same. However, when one of her team members is late, she loses her cool and reminds the team member of office etiquette and discipline.

Today, it is reflected in the behaviour of nations across the world. We see one super power bullying everyone if those countries do not toe their line. This super power can invade any country and kill anyone in the name of protecting humanity. However, when the same actions are initiated by another country in some part of the world, then this super power considers it violation of human rights, freedom and liberty.

If I go in knee deep water near a waterfall it is fine but if my kids want to do the same, I may say it may not be safe as in the photo above.

Although, I find this behaviour by individuals, communities, organisations and nations amusing, I have not been able to get to the root cause. I cannot understand as to why I tend to justify my ill behaviour by reasons beyond my imagination and find the same behaviour reprehensible when displayed by others. It is like an obese doctor advising his patient to control his diet and maintain his body mass index. It is visible but not comprehensible.

Life is a mystery and we need to discover it every day of our lives.

 

S Ramesh Shankar

 

29th January 2020

Practise before you Preach

Most of us are born preachers. We love to give advice even before we are asked. This habit has been inherited from generations. I do not know whether it is in our genes or not but it is prevalent around the world in human beings.

One of the interesting insights I got from “Vidhurshastra”, a Hindu relic is “Never give advice to an adult, unless asked for”. I read it only a few years back and since then have tried my best to follow. Although, I must admit that I fail once in a while and go ahead giving free unsolicited advice.

I feel less annoyed at Preachers per se. The category of people who preach before they practise is the one I find amusing. I can narrate quite a few interesting anecdotes from my life where I have experienced this.

The first instance was I went for routine annual medical check up. I was found overweight by a few kgs for my age. The physician who examined me looked at my reports and enquired if I exercise everyday. I told her that I walk and do yoga every day. She said without blinking her eye that I need to exercise more to lose weight to maintain good health. She was technically right. But coming from a person who was atleast ten kgs overweight for her age was very amusing to me.

I have seen many parents advising their kids to refrain from smoking and drinking although they feel quite normal to smoke or drink daily in their lives. These preachers not only put off their followers but end up as hollow and nobody will be willing to listen to them. Their kids may have to listen to them till they grow into adolescents and then they would rebel as they see a wide gap between what they say and what they do.

I have seen social activists fighting for great social causes like anti dowry, domestic violence against women and treating servants humanly etc. However, if you peek into their own personal lives, we find they take dowry , consider domestic violence normal in their own homes and treat their servants inhumanly.

Children will always follow what you do rather than what you say. Its good to practise before you preach. If you wear a mask always, kids need not be told to do so. They will do it on their own as in the photo above.

This reminds of the next category of such phoney human beings. They are the so called religious leaders. They are present in almost all the religions. They preach abstinence and dignity of women and practise the other way. They exploit the emotional vulnerability of women and men and misuse their position of significance in society.

I do not want anyone to get me wrong. I am not against anyone giving advice to anyone. However, I feel it is unfair to give advise on anything unless we follow it before we give suggestions to others. If I do not follow something, I have no moral authority to give advise on the same to anyone – irrespective of whether someone seeks it or not.

My mantra in life is simple. Practise before you Preach.

 

S Ramesh Shankar

24th Jan 2020

My Ephiphany for the new year

I have the habit of calling and wishing people on their birthdays when I come to know of them either through family, friends or through the social media. This month I called a dear friend to wish him on his birthday. We have known each other for more than three and a half decades. He was happy to receive my call and said he was waiting for it.

Then he shared an interesting insight. He asked why don’t we write obituaries for each other. When I told him that Obituaries are written and shared only on death of people, he said he was aware of that. But his suggestion was why speak about all the good qualities of someone after her or his death. Why not we write obituaries and share with them when they are alive.

I thought it was a great insight. It is true that we realise the goodness in others only when they are not around. It could be parents, siblings, friends or colleagues. How many of us take the time out to write and share about the good ness of others when they are alive ?

I not only thought it was a great idea but decided that I will implement it. I will start by writing about my friend who gave this idea. I told him that I will not call it an obituary. He responded stating he does not care what I call it as long as I am willing to appreciate the goodness and share with them when they are alive.

This friend of mine worked in the steel plant in the eighties and nineties. He is man with a golden heart. He will never say no to anything anytime. He has always been around to help people when they need him the most. He has taken care of his family and brought up his two wonderful daughters as value based human beings. He is not one of those who will call you often to formally enquire about your well being. But he will be the first to respond in a moment of distress for help. He finds ways and means to give back to society in ways only he can.

I felt good in writing this para and sharing with him. I would urge all my friends and readers to consider this idea. You may not call it an obituary but write about the good things of your parents, siblings, friends and relatives and share with them when they are around. They may just adore you for that. I loved the idea and hence I am sharing it with all of you.

Am grateful to Dilip in the photo above for giving me this new insight in life.

I would like to call it “Ephiphany” meaning insight, which I got from this interaction with my friend. You may call it the way you want to but try it. It is energising and does not cost you anything. On the other hand, you may be showered with love and blessings from all.

Why not make it your new year resolution for this year ? Please write the positive qualities of a friend or relative and share it with them. I am sure you will love the magic in your relationship after that share. Will wait for your feedback when you write back to me.

Lets try it from today.

S Ramesh Shankar

13th November 2021

Should we be active or remain calm ?`

I am sure most of us would have made multiple new year resolutions to lose weight and become fit. A friend interestingly told me that “mobility leads to physical fitness, and calmness leads to mental fitness”. I was awe struck by this sentence. I reflected on it and realised that there is so much insight in this sentence.

Life is a fine balance between being physically fit and mentally fit. If you need to be physically fit, you need to keep moving your body. You need to exercise and control your diet so that you are able to maintain your weight and maintain your physique.

On the other hand, if you want peace of mind and be mentally fit, you need to ensure that your mind does not wander and is calm at times. Our mind wanders faster than the speed of light and most of the time we are thinking and not listening to others. We respond before someone completes a sentence. All this leads to stress and thereby to many mental disorders like depression etc.

One may think if you are physically fit, you are healthy. It may not be true. Similarly, if you are mentally calm (since you have your mind under your control) does not necessarily make you healthy as you may be obese and may have poor physical fitness.

All of us go through ups and downs in life. We have high and low days. We have our successes and failures. On the other hand all of us want to be fit – both physically and mentally. While most of us resolve to improve our physical fitness, many of us are not able maintain to our mental fitness.

We tend to blame the environment, the work stresses, the climate change and all external factors for our state of being. We forget that both physical and mental fitness is well within our control. Nobody has prevented me to have a daily physical exercise routine. Nobody has asked me to take all the stress to my head and further pass it on to my colleagues and family members.

So, we need to ask the questions to ourselves. If we honestly do, we may find the answers too. What do I need to be physically fit every day ? How do I manage my mental wellness ? Am I the only guy or girl facing stress in life ?

Thus, if we are honest to ourselves and make up our mind to challenge ourselves every single day of our life, we will change. We need to move our bodies to be physically fit and keep our mind calm to be mentally fit.

If you silently admire the gushing water in a falls, you can experience calmness although water is in motion as in the photo above.

Let us choose an exercise or a game of our choice and be self disciplined to follow a regimen every single day of our lives. We need to commit to ourselves that we will not allow any stress in our lives to hamper our well being. We will neither allow stress to impact us nor will we pass it on to others in our network in the family or the organisation.

Life is after all a fine balance between action and calmness. Let’s try.

S Ramesh Shankar

9th July 2019

Does beauty lie in perfection ?

I have always wondered if beauty lies in perfection or otherwise ? I have seen that the truth may lie somewhere in between. I live in a home today which is built by a builder whose architects play around with the beauty in the imperfections of nature.

On the other hand, I used to live in a flat where the architects believed that beauty lies in perfection. In that flat everything will be perfect to the core and almost like a mirror image of each other.

While I admired both the houses and the builders, I always wondered whether beauty lies in perfection or imperfection ? This may be true in life too. I have always been a reasonably organised person in my personal and professional life.

All my things at home will be in its place and all things will have a place in my home. Similarly my office space will be reasonably organised so that you can retrieve anything in reasonable time.

I have met people in my life who aim for perfection as the means and the others who consider it an end. There are some who get highly disturbed even if a small pin is not kept in its rightful place. On the other hand, there are others who thrive in chaos.

Another good example could be our planning process. I love to travel to places. So, while I travel I plan reasonably well in advance, book my tickets, hotels etc. Even if I am travelling by car, I am clear on my route and the place where I plan to stay. However, it may be fun sometimes to tread on a journey where the destination or the route is unknown.

There are people who fear the unknown and there are others who fear the known. So the truth in life may lie in between the two extremes. A teacher who teaches you up to the last alphabet may do a good job but a teacher who enables you to explore the last alphabet may also kindle the curiosity in you.

I am not sure whether perfection adds to beauty or it destroys ? If we plan perfectly life is beautiful but imperfection makes life adventurous. So life is not black and white. It is grey most of the times. We need to learn to aim for perfection but should be willing to deal with imperfection and enjoy the journey instead of cribbing about it.

The beauty of the craft in the photo above may be in the imperfection more than the perfection.

If you buy a hand woven garment most manufacturers will tell you that no two garments will be similar. The hand craft of a weaver is reflected in the garment and hence each garment could be different but may be beautiful. On the other hand, machine made garments may all be perfect to design and no dissimilarities between two of them and this may make it boring.

So, we have to learn to live with imperfections to have a perfectly happy life.

S Ramesh Shankar

18th October 2019

Live in “Absolute” not in “Relativity”

I have always wondered – “What makes people happy ?”. After a lot of thought and reflection, I have evolved a simple hypothesis to be happy in life. Many of us spend our life time living everyday by comparing ourselves with people around us. It even starts in our childhood. Our parents tend to compare us with other children in academics and other activities and thereby rate our performance. Our teachers do the same and hence our society judges us by comparison only.

We grow up that way and tend to live life by comparison. We start with our student days and look at how have we done vis a vis our siblings or friends or relatives. We then worry why our career is slower than our friends and relatives. We lose our sleep if our neighbour gets a new car and we cannot afford one.

Life goes on this way. At work, life is no different. Our performance is assessed in relation to our peers. Even performance management systems are designed to assess performance in relative terms. So we end up as a point of reference in a bell curve. Some doing better than us and some worse.

In my view, the foundation of unhappiness is our living by comparisons. The day we realise that if we live in an “Absolute” way without comparing ourselves with anyone around us, life would be fun and we would discover the formula for joy. This may not be easy as it is ingrained in all of us to live in “relativity”. It starts with family, friends, relatives and society at large. Even countries do not prosper because they live and die with comparisons.

Let us look at why Bhutan is the happiest country in the world although they may not be the wealthiest. This is because the rulers as well the countrymen live in “absolute” terms. The people of Bhutan consider happiness as the means to the end as well the end in itself. They do not compare their GDP or wealth or development with other countries in any other way.

So, it is time for us to sit back and think about it. If we start living for ourselves and our happiness we will not worry about what others do or have. We will be happy with what we have and not die for what others have and we don’t. We need to be content with what we have. This does not mean we should not aspire for higher things in life. Of course we should but not because others have it but because we can work towards achieving it for ourselves.

Every parent should look at the innate talent of each child and let her or him prosper, grow and realise their potential. Every manager should look at each employee as a talent and provide the necessary environment for him or her to grow based on their potential and not their performance in relation to other colleagues.

I am convinced that if I live life on my own terms, there will be less and less reasons to be unhappy. I have tried to be content with what I have right from the day I started my career. With the active support of my partner and my kids, I have been happy most of the time in life. So, this hypothesis is not based on any management theory but personal belief and practise.

We can best learn from children of how to enjoy life in absolute rather than suffer in relativity by comparisons, as in the photo above.

You have a right to have a alternate opinion and I have a right to differ with you.

Let us exchange our views on this issue so that together we make everyone happier every day.

Together we can.

S Ramesh Shankar

10th August 2019

Inspired by nature

Today I got up in the morning listening to the chirping of birds. It was an apt reminder to me to be with nature. I live in a home which is surrounded by nature. Yet I have not yet realised the beauty of nature.

Then I fed the fish and found that although there are seven fishes in my aquarium they do not fight with each other when I put in their morning feed. They take their quota and peacefully leave it for the others to have their food. We need to learn to live and let live like the fish.

Then it was the street cat visiting us. As my wife fed her milk. She not only had it herself but shared with her sibling. The lesson learnt was that we need to share our resources with people around us. It is possible that we are bestowed with more resources than we need. It is time to share.

Everything in nature is inspiring. We can learn all our lessons in life just by quietly observing nature. The self sufficiency of trees or the kindness or the generosity of animals around us. Each of them have something to share and it is up to us to observe and learn.

I looked at the birds chirping and waking me up from my bed. Unlike the alarm jarring in my ears and my pouncing on it so that I can have a short snooze again, the birds inspired me to get up. It reminded me that my sleep was enough and it was time for me to enjoy the beauty of the morning and get on with the chores of the day.

Today with all the technology in the world assisting us in every walk of life, we are drifting away from nature. We can realise this from morning to night. Unlike the birds waking us up, today it is AI in the form of Alexa or google chrome that  wakes us up. Unlike the morning stroll in the forest or amongst the trees, today it is the tread mill where we aimlessly jog just to prove to ourselves that we are exercising.

Every aspect of life has become unnatural. I am a great fan of technology but instead of enabling us to be better human beings it has possibly made us lazier and less natural. This possibly has an impact on our behaviour as well.

Unlike the fish or the cats which were willing to share with others and were selfless, we are self centred most of the time. We are oblivious of our surroundings and our neighbours. In cities, we do not know most of our neighbours most of the time unless there is a crisis.

In my view all this is possibly because we have moved away from nature. It is time to get back to nature. It is time to live naturally. The movements to recycle things in life is a positive step. The segregation of organic and inorganic waste is also a good step. We need to reduce and possibly eliminate the inorganic waste in our lives. I remember as a child we recycled waste within our homes as all of it was organic.

Let us resolve to be in touch with nature and get inspired by it as my friend is seen in the photo above. Let us lead by example so that our future generations will lead a better quality of life.

S Ramesh Shankar

2nd June 2019

Life is more than an individual…

We sometimes fantasise that life is all about ourselves as an individual. This is truly a fantasy. The earlier we realise , the better it may be for our lives. Let us start from our personal lives including our family, friends and society.

Imagine how life would be without being part of a family. We may be born alone when we arrive at earth but there can be no life without being a member of a family and a community. It is rightly said that man is a social animal. We cannot imagine leading life all alone. We need siblings and friends all the time to enrich our lives.

This is the reality of life from childhood to senescence. Imagine a child growing up all alone with nobody around to play with. Imagine a youth without friends around her. Can we imagine a senior citizen living all alone at home and staring at the four walls ? Life would not only be boring but may be difficult to live through.

We need support from everyone around us in our family and social circle to grow up and succeed. We need guidance and direction from more experienced people than us. We need recognition and support when we slip along the way. We need someone to lift us up when our morale is at an all time low.

The situation is no different when we are at work. Some employees dream that the organisation exists only because of them. This is again a dream till they realise that they exist, learn and grow only because of the organisation. Organisation again is a social enterprise. It is not the building or the machines, which makes an organisation. It is the people working in them. No individual can succeed without enabling peers at work, a motivating manager and supportive customers and suppliers.

Even the best performing employees realise that they can never be successful without their team. How can one imagine of doing everything alone in life ? It is neither practical nor possible. The earlier we realise this reality in our career, the more successful we are likely to be.

Let us examine a football team. Even the best player in the world cannot score a goal unless he is supported by other forwards in the team. We see this in action. Many outstanding players lose out in the long run because in spite of great talent they fail to realise the value of team work.

Sometimes by looking at the mirror as in the photo above, we tend to believe that that life is all about ourselves till we come out and see the world.

Life is no different. As we have seen whether in the family, work, community or society, our success lies in our ability to grow beyond our individualism. We need to realise this early and learn the art of working in teams. It is the give and take in life, which will make us successful.

We need to realise that no individual is larger than the team she represents. If individuals excel in team work, they may be more successful than others. So, life is all about working in groups and enabling each other to succeed.

Let’s transcend from individual to team thinking today.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th November 2018

Managing performance in the digital age

All of us wonder as to how do we manage performance in a digital age ? We are not sure of our markets, customers, competitors and even types of employees. How do we measure performance in such a fluid state ?

The basics of a good system :

A good performance management system consists of target setting and performance review, assessment of competencies, rewards and recognition and potential assessment. So, why complicate our lives in a digital age. Let us try to keep it simple.

Target setting :

We could evolve a system of target setting for shorter periods of time. It could be quarterly target setting and review. As of today, we may have clarity from one quarter to another. So, let us set simple measurable targets and review them at the end of every quarter. If the targets themselves become redundant within a quarter, let us review the targets itself.

We possibly need to set dynamic targets, which are reviewed periodically during the course of the year like the moving train in the photo above.

Quality of dialogue & feedback :

The crux of a good performance management system in today’s environment is not about the system but the quality of dialogue we have. The millennials are not worried about targets not being set. They are more concerned about the quality of dialogue and feedback so that they can continually learn and grow.

Competencies :

Now, if we move to assessment of competencies – the first step would be to define the set of competencies relevant to the business and the environment it operates. We need to keep this simple too. A focussed approach on defining one or two functional competencies and one or two leadership competencies would be effective. These could be again reviewed every quarter based on the dynamics of the environment

Core values :

The core values of the organisation should be the bedrock of the system. This will not and should not change with time. Many organisations do not spend enough time and effort to define their core values and beliefs. This is critical for success and sustainability of an organisation. While nothing prevents us from a periodic review of these too but core values have to remain core at all times and should stand the test of time.

Rewards & Recognition :

Now if we move to rewards and recognition, the timing is most critical. The generation of today looks for instant gratification like two minute noodles. Our reward and recognition systems should be designed to recognise instantly. The time gap between a critical incident and reward given for it should be minimum. Empowerment of the first line managers is critical for this process and its effectiveness.

Performance vs Potential :

Last but not the least a good performance management system differentiates performance and potential. We should design the system in such a way that performance is assessed and rewarded every quarter whilst potential can be assessed at the end of every year and recognised through exciting projects and assignments.

Success of a good PMS :

The success of a good PMS in today’s era will lie in a fully automated system which is simple, transparent and empowering. The focus should be on the quality of dialogue and feedback between the employee and the manager and not on the robustness of the system.

Role of people managers :

We need to train and certify people manager on a periodic basis to achieve this goal. We need to remember that even in the digital age AI will not be able to express human emotions like the managers can in person. Hence the success of the system will be skills of the managers in dealing with millennials with human touch in an era where human interactions are likely to diminish otherwise.

S Ramesh Shankar

5th March 2019

Transforming engineering education in India

 

Many of us working in corporates continually complain about the quality of engineering education in India. We state that the students are not industry ready and the syllabus is outdated. The question to ask ourselves is what are we doing about it.

We have some German multinationals leading the way in this space. They have launched scholarship programmes for engineering students across the country. They go to more than 22 states and to the remotest government engineering colleges and select meritorious students from the poorest of families.( annual income less than Rs. 2 lacs per annum). They are selected through a objective technical and psychometric evaluation process.

These students then join the “scholarship programme”. This scholarship covers the cost of their engineering education. They are provided a laptop, mentor from the company and internships every year during their engineering education. Further they are trained on the latest technologies and also on soft skills like communication, presentation skills etc so that they become industry ready from the day they join corporates after their engineering education.

The highlights of the programme is that it is designed based on the reliable German dual education system. This is a holistic development plan with soft skills training, internship in company locations, functional and technical training including certification. This not only ensures industry ready students but also ensures that students are trained and certified in the latest technologies so that they are future proof.

The scholarship programme is different from other similar programmes in that it is much more than a financial assistance programme. It provides the following inputs to the students and enables them to be fit to work from day one of their joining an organisation post their engineering education.

A. Holistic development : The training over the period of 4 years comprises of technical training, functional skills, personality development, soft skills training, communication skills and ably supported by mentoring.

B. Mentoring : Every student is mentored by a senior manager from industry so that they can be moulded in both their functional skills and personality development. They are also inculcated withe values and ethics of business.

C. Technical training : Most industries complain that the engineering education does not train students in the latest technologies and make them industry ready. Our programmes cover the latest technologies and also certifies them in areas like mechatronics so that they are better equipped with practical inputs before they enter industry as engineers.

D. Soft skills training : The biggest challenge engineering students face when they enter industry is on soft skills and business etiquette. This programme ensures that by the time they finish their engineering course, their communications skills are sharpened and they are groomed with business etiquette’s. They can confidently present their views verbally and also through presentations and reports. They are also given inputs on Smart study techniques, effective conversations and time management. They are also made aware of emotional intelligence and self awareness. They are trained for effective participation in group discussions, personal interview

E.Personal vision & career management : They are trained to evolve their personal vision and manage their career so as to reach their life goals. This enables them to evolve as confident and responsible citizens.

F.Interpersonal skills : One of the challenges while entering industry is to work effectively in teams. Hence, they are trained on interpersonal skills, assertiveness and social skills so that they can contribute effectively as team leaders and team members.

G.Cross functional training : They are given inputs in sales and service, manufacturing, quality, supply chain and finance. This ensures that they get multi functional exposure and understand inter dependencies in an organisation.

As in the photo above, the child may learn laws of motion in a park better than in a classroom if demonstrated through practical experiments.

This model of training engineering students by these organisations are a practical and sustainable approach to transforming engineering education in India and making them industry ready. It is time other organisations follow this or similar models so that we can contribute to transofrming societies at large. We can bridge the gap between industry and academia and play our role responsibly to make the impact.

S Ramesh Shankar

Founder – “Hrishti”
14th May 2019