Class is classic 

Class means different things to different people. As a student of sociology, class refers to the social status in society. It is referred to as social class. It is like the caste system, which creates a hierarchy in society. Class could be based on income, caste, profession etc. An act of high quality is also referred to as class. For eg, in the cricket world, we normally refer to batsmen who are outstanding as class. An oft quoted saying is ” Form is temporary but Class is permanent.”

So, let us understand why form is temporary but class is permanent. It is believed the best in class player in any form of sports is classic although she or he may not be in form on a particular day. We can think of the best soccer players going goalless in a match. The best batsmen getting out for a duck and so on. However, their consistency and quality of the game is unimaginable. Hence, we could easily state that “Class is classic”.

If we move to the social class, there is an interesting theory in sociology called “Sanskritization”. This means people who are in the lower caste do everything in their domain to move to the higher caste hierarchy. This is simple aspiration in life. Who on earth would not like to grow ? However sociologists have studied this phenomenon and called it “Sanskritization”. Today it may look obvious that every one of us aspires to learn and grow in every aspect of life.

Another interesting determinant of class is forwardness or backwardness of a community. This is determined by developmental indicators, educational levels, per capita income and so on. So, when communities are behind their contemporaries in the same society due to clear developmental factors, they are referred to as backward communities. On the other hand, when communities move forward in the same factors they are called forward class.

Another interesting classification of society in the past has also been done based on the professional vocation of a group. This segregation then refers to a community as potters , agriculturists and so on. The profession adopted by the majority of a village or a community gives credence to the name of that community or village as a potters village and so on.

Whatever be the definition of class, I would state that “Class is classic”. In order to attain class in anything we do, we have to be the best in class. This means that in a group of artisans if we are the best, we are referred to as class. This has an important meaning for us in life. If we are the best in whatever we do in life, we will be a class apart and nobody can ignore us. On the contrary, class is respected always.

If I link it to the organisational context, most of us waste our time and efforts by comparing ourselves with our colleagues at work in terms of our performance. It would be wiser to compare oneself to self and be the best in class. If we are the best in whatever we do in the organization, nobody can afford to ignore us, least of all our manager. Hence, it is critical to remember that the best in class will always beat their own standards and records and not bother about others.

Why should we waste our time by comparing ourselves with others if we can be the best ? Our competitors should waste their time comparing themselves with us rather than the other way around. Let us excel in whatever work we do and be always better than the best. The best is class and may not be easy to replicate. We have to outshine everyone around us by our class and not by caste or position or power.

As in the photo above, Taj Mahal is class and hence no new architecture of the world has been able to beat its beauty.

Let us learn to outshine ourselves every day.

S Ramesh Shankar

People – the competitive advantage for an organisation

Every company in the world tries to identify what is its competitive advantage ? They look at what markets they operate in ? Who are their competitors ? What are their sources of competitive advantage ? This leads to factors like Cost, Quality, Reliability , Service, Innovation, Products etc. But, I do not subscribe to this theory of management. In my view, all competitors ultimately catch up to your sources of competitive advantage today or tomorrow. Hence, it is only “People” working with you, who are your only source of competitive advantage, which is not replicable.

Hence, if we believe that we have to make our organisation a great place to work – we have to realize that “Managing People” is not nice to have but must have factor for organisational success. If we take the simple example of the auto industry, we will get our answers. Today, the cars produced by different companies in the same segment is not very much differentiated. They have the similar technology, features, price etc. What really differentiates them is the service, which that company provides you before or after the sale of the car. Service is delivered by people and people are the key differentiator.

We have evolved the concept of “Ownership culture” in our organisation. What does this mean – this means that every manager owns her or his people in every possible way. A manager is the friend, guide and philosopher for his team. We need to build the people management skills in every manager so that they take care of their team members.

We launched the “People Matter” programme and the manager fitness certificate to support this philosophy in Siemens. This would help us strengthen the ownership culture by creating highly motivated teams. This would in turn enhance our customer experience. Like they say, if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers.

In this intervention, we partnered with Great Place to Work(GPTW). The reason why we selected GPTW is because we wanted a partner, who understand India and also helps us understand the best people practises in the world. They have helped us customise the programme to suit our context. They have benchmarked us with the best in the world and are supporting us to become the best.

This has been an exciting journey for me personally. I travel across the company and have visited almost all locations of Siemens. Everywhere I have been since the launch of the People Matter programme, employees have told me that they see the significant change in the behaviour of their managers. This is very heart warming. They tell me that their managers listen more and spend more time with them for their own development.

It is the people in the organization, who make a difference as illustrated in the photo above.

We would like to make this a way of life in Siemens. This is not a one of flavour of the season. We want every people manager to be the face of the employee in Siemens. We will empower them to take people decisions for all their team members. We will incorporate this in some way towards the “How” assessment in the PMP process. We will reward and recognise the best people managers periodically across the company.

We believe that it is “Customer first” but “Employee always” in Siemens.
 
S Ramesh Shankar
 

Campus to Corporate…

All of us look forward to our first job in our life. We eagerly await the completion of our formal education in school/college to enter the corporate life. We want to stand on our own feet and live out our dreams in life.

While this journey is indeed exciting, we have to prepare ourselves to be successful in this phase of our life. What are the changes which one has to encounter when you leave the college premises and enter the corporate world?

A. Forget your pedigree at the compound wall of the corporate : While your pedigree may help you enter the corporate world, it will not make any impact after you are in there. What makes a difference is your performance and the value you bring to the table.

B. Unlearn, learn and re-learn : Unlike the academic world, the corporate sphere changes very fast. We need to learn to unlearn, learn and re-learn at a hectic pace not only to survive but to thrive in the corporate world.

C. Excel : Excellence is a journey and it is never ending in a corporate world. You have to be the best in whatever you do and then nobody can ignore you. Kindly remember that this world is much more competitive than the academic world and you may not always get a second chance.

D. Ambition : Dream big and you will be able to realize your dreams some day. It may not happen in the time frame you have set for yourself but if you do not give up, it will definitely materialise.

E. Morals : It is always a dilemma in your mind if ethics have any value in corporate life. You may have seen millionaires making money the wrong way. You may be tempted to take short cuts and realize your dreams. Just remember to listen to your conscience every single time and you will do no wrong. It is better to be happy and hold your head high rather than be rich and evade the taxman or the police all the time.

F. Stand alone : It is natural for you to compare your self with others working with you. You may wonder why you get paid less as compared to someone else working with you. You may think the other person is less qualified or has irrelevant experience. It is not worth comparing yourself with others and feeling bad about it. You need to learn to be like the pole star comparing yourself with yourself and shining so brightly that nobody on earth can ever miss your sight.

G. Commitment : One may get away by submitting your assignment late in college once in a while. However, in the organisational context, living up to your commitments is the key to success. Your relative value is always determined by your personal credibility.

H. Punctuality : Self discipline is expected in corporate life. Nobody will remind you to be on time. You set your standards by being on time all the time. Your reputation is determined by your punctuality. It is good to remember that your discipline is displayed when nobody watches you.

I. Mobility: In today’s globalised business environment, one need’s to be truly globally mobile to be successful. We should be willing to pack up our bags and go anywhere in the world to launch a global career in any organisation.

J. Team work : Unlike the college daya, where one could get away with individual excellence, team work is the key to success in organizations. One needs to learn to work in team and collaborate and cooperate to leverage on the strengths of each team member.

Now, let us look at the emotions and feelings we may experience as we enter the corporate world and how do we deal with them :

I. Happy and excited : The enthusiasm and joy has to be sustained and persevered. We may not always get what we want but by sheer hard work and determination we can lay our own career path in the organisation.

II. Fear : The lurking fear of not being good enough will confront us. Our ability to be humble, grounded and willingness to unlearn, learn and re learn will help us get over fear.

III. Unhappiness : Not getting the location of your choice may make you unhappy. But our ability to adapt and make the best use of every opportunity will help us excel.

IV. Anxiety : Everything appears new and unknown. How to ask and whom to ask is a constant question in our mind. Simply asking and being innocent will help you always find your way.

V. Intimidating : The induction programme may be intimidating and you may find your self lost in a big organisation. Kindly remember all of us joined some day and today it is your turn. There is nothing to worry as you will come to know of everything as days pass by.

VI. Nervousness: The fear of the unknown and the realisation that time will run out fast may make you restless. As long you realize that learning is a life long journey, please remember that everyone in the organisation will be keen to help you.

VII. Curiosity : You are not sure when to speak and when to listen. You are curious when to ask questions and whom to ask. There is no right or wrong answers. As long as you are authentic, you need not worry about anything or anybody in the organisation.

Some things to look forward to :

A. First salary : The thrill of getting your first salary in life is unbelievable

B. Own office desk: When you reach office on the first day and get your own desk to sit, it is a matter of pride.

C. Corporate credit card: On getting your corporate credit card, you feel as if you have arrived in life.

D. Colleagues / friends – It feels nice to have new friends and colleagues at work and learn from them

E. Visiting card : Your first visiting card gives you respect and credibility

F. Independence : As we stand on our own feet, we become self reliant

All in all, moving from campus to corporate is like transitioning from bachelorhood to married life. Unlike your spouse in married life, you will have colleagues in the organisation. It is our ability to adapt and learn from them, which will make us successful.

The nervousness of the student transitioning into the corporate world can be seen in the photo above.

Wish you all the best.

S Ramesh Shankar

Traditions versus Modernity


We all have inherited innumerable traditions from our families and societies.  They help us in life and living.  We need not rediscover the world as our forefathers have experienced most of it and left behind ways of dealing with life in most situations.  When we follow a ritual, we may call them tradition.  On the other hand, when we invent something new to deal with a new situation, we may call it modernity.

In life both traditions and modernity are equally important.  While traditions share lessons of the past, modernity helps us to break free from the past and deal with the future with an open mind.  I used to think that most of the traditions are redundant and may not answer the questions of life in the future.  I personally did not believe in many traditions and believed they were backward looking.

However, I recently went to my diabotologist to consult for my diabetes.  When he enquired about my food habits I explained how I had moved from traditional food to new oils and less calorie food products.  He smiled and advised me to revert to traditional food.  He explained as to how the human body adapts to the food based on weather and eating habits.  He further explained that oils and food items recommended by our grand parents are more healthy than what modern marketeers make us believe.  

This was indeed a revelation.  He explained the science behind traditions.  It appeared to make more sense.  After all traditions are also rooted in science and may be we do not believe in them because there was no marketing of traditions.  I am not for one recommending that all our traditions are noble.  However, it may be valuable to look at traditions with an objective mind.  We may challenge only those traditions which may have become irrelevant in modern life.

Another interesting example of traidition versus modernity is the science of “Vaastu”. I used to live in a beautiful green home in Bangalore till I moved to Mumbai.  My wife felt that that home was not vaastu compliant after staying there for three years.  I resisted from moving out of the house since we had moved in by choice and loved the environs.  However, when I was moving to Mumbai for change of my job in 2011 I agreed to sell that home and buy another similar green home.

Meanwhile I tried to study the science of “Vaastu” ( Indian traditional science of architecture).  I found it intriguing.  It explains the basics for the design of a house.  It explains as to why the kitchen should preferably be in the south east of the house.  This is because the maximum sunlight enters the house in this direction and hence it will be a natural prevention of pests and insects in the kitchen.  The master bedroom should be in the south west because it is the coolest place in the house and so on.

After having studied the basics of Vaastu, I can state that this tradition is worth emulating and following even today.  Every recommendation of Vaastu seems to rooted in science and although learnt through traditions is relevant to modern life.  No wonder one of the best insititutes of architecture in the country has recently decided to include the study of Vaastu as part of the curriculum.

As in the photo above, people of a southern state use cocunut oil for all their cooking as per tradition and still lead a healthy life without much impact on their cholesterol levels.

Let the traditions of the past help us redefine our life today.

S Ramesh Shankar

Should every effect have a cause ?


Every time something happens in life, we look for a reason.  We are worried and want to dig deep to find out the root cause.  We sometimes even lose our sleep if we do not get to the root cause for everything in life.  I sometimes wonder if every effect  necessarily needs to have a cause ?  If it rains on a bright summer day, is it wrong ?    If someone who has never called you up for years suddenly decided to enquire about you on the phone, is it unusual. 

I personally feel that we waste a lot of time, many a time by investigating the causes rather than the managing the effect.  Why not live with the effect ?  Why not accept the event as it comes and evolve ways and means to deal with it.  In our quest to get to the root cause, we sometimes even forget to celebrate good moments in life.  Imagine someone surprising you with a chocolate on your work desk.   We spend more time finding out who did it rather than enjoying the chocolate.

I can recall many moments in my life where something happens out of the blue.  We can never get to the root cause as to why it happened.  It may not be worth the time and effort even to try to do it.  I recall way back in 2002 I had planned a holiday to a particular country with my family.  I had booked the tickets, accommodation etc.  But when we went for the visa interview, they denied the visa for all of us with the reason that we were potential immigrants.  I was working in Delhi and my children were studying.  We were living in our own house but still it happened.  I never bothered why they denied my visa.  I changed my plans and went on a nice holiday to another beautiful country.

If I had spent my time to invesitagate the reasons why they denied my visa, I would have wasted a lot of time and energy.  My holiday plans would have got spoiled and my family may have felt miserable.  But as we changed the plans and went to another country, we enjoyed the trip and never regretted the incident till today. 

 In life, many a time, we do not follow this principle.  We are always worried why it happened and why it happened only to me ? We spend sleepless days and nights worrying about it.  Why worry about something over which you have no control.  In my view, it is not worth it.  It is like worrying about the reasons for rain on a bright summer day.  Lets enjoy the rain rather than find the cause for the rain.  Can we control the rain ?  We cannot and hence why worry about it.

Another incident which has convinced me that we should not worry about the cause is when I moved to Mumbai in 2011.  I had settled in Bangalore and was staying in my own home.  I never thought I will move out of Bangalore.  But suddenly an opportunity knocked my door and we decided to move.  I never worried to find out the reasons why it happened to me.  This is because it helped me to move to a more vaastu compliant home in Bangalore.  It also gave me an opportunity in work in Mumbai, which I had never done before.

I am told that the wild lillies in the forest grow beautifully without any reason. They do not wait for the rains to arrive to blossom.

It is important to remember that there would be events in life, which occur for no reason.  When things go well, we generally do not bother for the reason.  But when things do not go well, we wonder – why me ?  It may be worthwhile to ponder, why worry for the reason ?  Let us learn to accept things as they happen and learn to deal with them.  It may many a time happen for our good.

Shall we try it ?

S Ramesh Shankar

Facing an”Interview”


One of life’s toughest examination is facing a job interview.  Of course, our life is submerged in a competitive landscape and we have to qualify at each stage of our life.  Today the competition begins even when a child enters a school for the first time.  More than the child the parents face the challenges of admission.  Imagine parents being interviewed for admitting a child in first standard of a school.  It is no longer a joke but the reality of today.

This journey continues through school and college.  In the Indian context, getting admission to your preferred school is only the first step.  Then it is middle school, high school and finally the hurdle of a college admission.  Many parents decide what their child should be studying and this makes the admission process more complex.  Apart from admission tests and capitation fees, which are indeed a nightmare, the interview process is itself a life time test.

Now, if we believe that the hurdles are over and life is going to be a smooth sail thereafter, we are in for a shock.  Graduating from an educational institute is only a pre-qualifier.  Now, you have to plunge into the world of the job market.  If you have managed to secure admission in a prestigious educational institution, you may be lucky as employers may queue in to offer you a job based on your merit.  But the majority of students pass out from colleges, where there are many more students than job opportunities.

You may have to go through a series of written tests followed by psychometric examinations and then finally may be lucky to be short listed for a face to face or video job interview.  Many students find it easier to clear the written tests and psychometric ones but find it challenging to face an interview.  Hence, I thought it may be worthwhile to write about it.  This may be helpful to calm your nerves.  My five commandments for a impactful interview would be :

A. Be authentic :  All of us have gone through ups and downs in our academic career.  It is best to be truthful and share your crests and troughs without camoflaging it. You can highlight your areas of interest and your passions in academics, sports or culture.  You should be thorough in whatever you want to share and in depth. Be honest in all your answers and do not try to impress anyone.  Kindly remember the interviewers are smarter than you.

B. Be passionate :  It may be a good idea to share your passions.  You could talk about how deeply you got into a particular subject and got great insights much beyond your syllabus.  You could talk about a sport you are passionate about and life lessons you learnt from it.  It is worthwhile to remember that you cannot fake your passion.

C. Share your experiences :  It is important to share your knowledge, skills or attitude through actual experiences you have had in your life.  If asked about your leadership, it is not expected to be hypothetical but relate it to your personal leadership experience in sports or cultural festival you have actually led.  What went right and how you could have done better ?  Competencies are best assessed by displayed behaviour and not theoretical constructs.

D. Lead the interview process :  While the interview is generally opened by the interviewer, you could take the first opportunity to lead the course of the interview.  This could be best done by sharing your story in an authentic and convincing way and leading the interview process to your strengths.

E. Live your values :  It is very important to display your core values right through the interview process.  This could be fundamental values like truthfulness, listening, ethics, respect and so on. You need to display your values in your behaviour in whatever you strongly believe in.  E.g. If you do not know an answer, it is best to accept it rather than mislead the interviewers. This will be living your value of “truthfulness”.

The nervousness of an interviewee may be symptomatically seen from the empty seats in front of the interviewer as in the photo above.

In my view, if you are well prepared, passionate and honest, you could relax and face the interview with determination.  I am sure you will come out with flying colours.

Wishing you all the best,

S Ramesh Shankar

Women Leadership : New age imperatives

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The International Women’s day celebrated on 8th March every year gives us an opportunity to appreciate and salute the role of women in society. It is true that around the world, women have played a stellar role in leadership in all walks of life. History teaches us of brave women, who have transformed societies with their selfless leadership. We in India have seen women as freedom fighters, politicians, a noble laureate, historians, academicians and very recently as space scientists, who have made our country proud by their outstanding accomplishments.

What are the new age imperatives, which the women leaders of today are challenged with ? 

 The first and the foremost challenge for women leaders would be the unconscious bias of others. Although, I strongly believe that women are equal to men as leaders, there is an unconscious bias especially in the Indian society that women cannot lead in particular circumstances like a battlefield, flying fighter planes or even working in the shop floor of a manufacturing unit. In my view, the bias is more in our mind than in reality.

The second challenge which women leaders may face in the new age would be the willingness of men and women under them to accept them as leaders. As I said earlier that having worked under women leaders, I do not find any difference between men and women as leaders. But the feudal mindset of men and women may make them uncomfortable to accept a woman as a leader. This may be experienced by many women leaders and they get over it by their sheer performance and effectiveness.

The third imperative could be the balance of work and life. It is very difficult for women leaders to balance family needs and work needs unless they have an excellent family support. In the absense of this support mechanism, it could result in strained family relationship or sometimes giving up a challenging career at their peak. Most women leaders work double of their male counterparts since they have to balance home and work and this is a big ask of them.

Having said that, I would like to restate that in my books, women leaders are as smart as male leaders if not smarter.

It is time to reflect and support them to succeed.

S Ramesh Shankar