Gurus in our lives

Who is a Guru ? Someone who teaches you something in life. It could be your teacher in the classical sense of the word. But, in my view, it could be anyone around you. I would like to explore people in my life, who have always taught me something. I am every grateful to them and I would call them “Gurus in my life”.

Let me start with my family. My parents taught me simple living and groundedness. My father taught me patience and my mother resourcefulness. My spouse taught me organising my life. My daughter taught me hard work and my son has taught me to live life king size every day.

If I look at my career, there are innumerable people in my life, who have taught me many things. My first boss taught me magnanimity and selflessness. My colleagues have taught me almost everything I learnt in my career. Whether it is learning about computers when I first used them in the late eighties or about apps which I use them today.

My friends have made me what I am today. I remember my first days in my career, when one of my best friends of my life evolved and he taught me what fairness and humanness is all about. Some friends have made me experience giving without expecting anything in return. Others have taught me as how you could be around for someone without even physically being there.

If you look at the place you live, you realise that the people who work in your community teach you something every day. My house help has taught me to live life smilingly irrespective of all challenges you face. Another person has taught me how to be creative with the available resources you have and only mind is a limiting factor to our imagination.

I have learnt a lot from the public at large and even from people whom I have not met a second time again in my life. I remember travelling with a sportsperson once and he taught me how to learn from failures. I learnt how one could serve the community without expecting anything in return from many people in public life.

I have learnt a lot from politicians too although we generally think they are useless people. I have learnt how one could be a great orator if you can master a subject of your liking. I have learnt how one could serve your constituency to the best of your ability even though you may not have all the resources to support you always.

I have learnt a lot from animals too. A Labrador at home as a pet taught me loyalty, gratitude and selfless behaviour. Birds teach me to live life frugally every day. The cats teach me how you can keep your environs clean all the time. The bees teach me how you can contribute to others without expecting anything in return.

Life is a teacher. Everyone around you – human or otherwise teaches you something or the other. It is upto us to learn. A good student can learn from anyone. Age, experience or vocation is not a qualification for a teacher. It is the genuineness of the student and the eagerness to learn, which makes anyone a teacher for you. Our ability to observe and our willingness to submerge our egos may make us learn from everyone around us.

As in the photo above, our parents are our first Gurus in life and will always be for our life time.

Let us learn to be good followers. Teachers will always find us.

S Ramesh Shankar

30th May 2020

Learning by doing…

Choosing the right pan

I have always believed that learning best happens when you “learn by doing”. Today this concept got reinforced in my mind. A simple incident in my life but a great learning for my life time.

I normally have a half day fast once a week mainly to cleanse my body of all toxins. It is generally observed on Sundays but this week we were travelling and hence we observed on a Monday. Our routine is simple. No coffee or breakfast and fast till lunch with only water. Then break fast at lunch with fruits. Evening we take some dosas and end the day with curd rice.

Both my spouse and me undertook this weekly fasting exercise about a year and a half back. It helps us give some much needed break to our digestive system which works 24 x 7, 365 days otherwise. It also helps us refresh and rejuvenate for the week ahead.

We generally have fruits and then have a nap. When we get up,, we have dosas made of pulses as our first normal meal for the day. This not only is healthy but enables necessary intake of proteins and vitamins for the day. Normally my wife makes the dosas. Today she was a bit tired and hence I decided I will venture into the kitchen and try it myself.

I always thought making dosas was child play for me. This was because I had grown up as a child eating dosas and have had it at home and outside for my entire life. I have seen how dosas are made from the batter to the plate. The batter was already made and kept ready in the kitchen.

I had to just make it. So as I entered the kitchen I realised that I was not aware where the dosa pan was kept. Searching for it was the first task. Then I had look for the oil. As I got the oil I was not sure which of the two oils I should use as there was oil in two containers and both looked the same.

Then as I speak the batter on the pan, I thought I have made it till I realised after a few minutes that the dosa got stuck to the pan. I had chosen a wrong pan, which is normally used to make rotis. I did not know the difference between the two.

So as the dosa got stuck, I gave up my experimentation and waited for my wife to get up and help me with the making of the dosa. She got up and immediately pointed out that the dosa got stuck on the pan because I chose the wrong pan.

It stuck me that this was a simple exercise and just theoretical knowledge or observation was not good enough to do my job. In organisations, we think if we know the subject from college or have seen others do it, we can also do it. It may not be that simple. We need to learn by doing it ourselves.

This dosa experiment taught me and reinforced my learning that “ Learning by doing” is one of the best ways to learn and make others learn. We may end up making mistakes but that’s a learning too. I burnt the dosa and it got stuck on the pan but I did learn how to do it the right way , this way and hopefully next time will not repeat the same mistakes.

Our ability to accept our mistakes and learn from them makes us a better learner in life too. We need not feel bad that we have goofed up. Everyone does in some thing or the other. As long as we have the courage to accept and learn from it, it is great.

Life is always “Learning by doing”

S Ramesh Shankar

21st Dec 2020

Changing world of HR – Hire to Retire

When I started my career, we joined organisations where we could spend our lifetime and retire. Now, the scene has completely transformed. Nobody joins an organisation with the intent to retire from the same. People join organisations to propel their career as a launch pad.

In this context, the world of HR has transformed too. It has changed from “Hire to Retire”. Let us look at each phase of the employee life cycle and understand how the role of HR has changed over time.

Let us start at the recruitment stage. In most organisations, campus recruitment used to be the main source of recruitment since people joined and retired. Now, recruitment happens at all career steps of the organisation. Earlier it was a pen a paper process of recruitment. Now it is digital. We recruit through portals, apps and even social media. So the world of recruitment has completely transformed.

If we move to Induction and placement, most organisations do not have the luxury of time to induct an employee and in most cases the employee joins for a role and is not keen on the organisation deciding on which place you have to place the person.

If we move to learning and development, the concept of classroom training has given way to everywhere learning. This means that learning can be enabled in all forms. It could be e learning, app based learning, podcasts, videos or webinar’s. It could be supplemented by class room learning where it is absolutely necessary. The onus of training has gradually moved from the organisation to the individual. Organisations enable individuals to learn from all mediums possible and from everywhere.

If we move to performance management, the concept of yearly target setting, annual performance review are yore of the past. It is possibly monthly goals and could turn to weekly or daily ones in the near future and ongoing performance reviews. The concept of annual appraisal and salary reviews could be replaced by ongoing reviews and salary corrections linked to dynamics of the market place.

Employee engagement is stratified and targeted at different segments for maximum impact. It is no longer a one feed for all. It is an ongoing process and looks at retention more than engagement. Loyalty is no longer a virtue and attrition is no taboo to organisations.

Rewards and recognition is also not necessarily monetary. It is a mix of financial and non financial incentives. The schemes are also designed to suit the different generations and different segments of employees in the organisation. For eg, while the aged population may be happy with long term incentive, the youngsters prefer instant gratification.

The exit management process has also radically changed. Earlier organisations had a structured concept of exit interviews to understand why employees are leaving so that they can learn from such exits and improve their processes and system to retain employees better in the future. Now it is managed instantly. Just like appointments are made through social media, exits are announced through social media too. Both individuals and organisations are treating employees as tradeale commodities and it seems working although I am not sure how sustainable this model is going to be.

The world has changed and so has HR. It may be time to challenge some of these changes and adapt to many of them. While it is desirable to change with times, it may be useful to check if it syncs with organisational values from time to time.

Time to check is now.

S Ramesh Shankar

3rd June 2020

How to make unbiased decisions in life ?

We make decisions every day in every aspect of our lives. Many people have asked me as how to have to make unbiased decisions. I have also been reflecting on this subject. Then suddenly a few incidents happen in your life and you realise that the best way to make unbiased decisions is to put yourself in the position of the person or persons for whom you are taking a decision before you decide.

This may appear simple but may be the most difficult thing to do in life. I recently came to know of an incident where a HR manager hired an employee and offered her 10 percent less salary then she was earning with her previous employer. I was stunned when I heard of this incident. When I enquired as to how this happened I was told that the employee joined a new organisation in a new place. The average salary in this place was lesser than what the employee was already earning so the new employer offered lesser salary to the potential employee stating that the market offered lower salaries.

One may argue that the contract is between the employee and the potential employer. This may be factually true but ethically wrong. It is exploiting the situation of an empoyee. We have to ask the question if we would be happy if someone did that to us. Of course, if an employee is losing a job or voluntarily taking a cut to move to a new location or market of choice then it is different. But if an employer offers a lower salary to a potential employee on the pretext of lower market wages, this could be a biased decision.

We make such decisions every day. How do we become unbiased ? Let’s take the situation in the family. We decide for our kids. Are we able to put ourselves in the shoes of our daughter or son before we decide ? Or do we decide based on our own assumptions and are least concerned on how it would emotionally impact our kids. In most situations it is the latter than the former. I am not advocating here that we need to make all decisions in favour of our kids to be unbiased. I am only stating that before we decide, if we can put ourselves in the kids’ shoes, our decision could be less biased.

The situation is not very different at the work place. We decide for our teams or our customers and suppliers as if we are least bothered about the impact of our decisions. If we are again able to empathise before we decide, it may help us to be less biased. I am aware of leaders very disappointed on getting lower increments for themselves but for the same year want to give lesser increments then even they have got for their team members and argue unabashedly that they deserve only that.

It is like advising a child to sleep on a swing without trying it ourselves as in the photo above.

It is time to realise that life is better when we are able to look at the world through the eyes of others before we look with our own eyes. Let’s try it.

S Ramesh Shankar

6th May 2019

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

Everyone of us have an expiry date…

Today I read in the morning newspapers that a senior bureaucrat in the government is retiring at the end of this month and neither is keen on an extension nor an alternate role in government. I salute this bureaucrat. All of us have to realise that we have an expiry date. Unless we give way, we cannot give opportunities for others to excel and prosper in all fields.

I have seen this phenomenon quite prevalent in corporates. The senior managers starting from the CEO think that they are indispensable and never want to let go. We all have to realise that there is a pre determined expiry date for all of us. It is like a medicine when manufactured has a pre printed expiry date. Life is no different.

When we are born on earth, God has already decided our date of death. Similarly when a food item is produced the expiry date is printed on the packaging itself. We need to realise that in our careers too this is applicable. We all have to come and go. We may be excellent in whatever we do but we need to give way at the right time for the next generation to take over.

This is equally true in sports. We find many senior sportspersons reluctant to hang their boots even when their talent is fading. They want to live in the past glory and do not give space for the younger talent to prosper. It is better to realise that we need to give way when people ask – ” Why now ? ” rather than “Why not now ?’.

Even in the family, we need to realise when our role expires and we need to give way to the next generation. We should not hang on to power as if nobody else can do better than us. We may be surprised that the next generation may do better than us. They are smarter, more energetic and may work differently.

This is equally true in our political system. Our political leaders never want to retire. I recently read about a veteran politician changing political affiliation just to get a parliamentary seat. It is true that our political system does not specify an age of retirement. However, all political parties should decide that everyone should retire and give way to others at a particular age.

It is more about our inability to accept the reality of age and cling on to our positions and roles. We have seen this in organisations, sports and politics that the gen next always surprises us positively.

All of us have a responsibility of giving way and letting go. We need to realise that everyone has a start date and an end date. While we can continue to excel in whatever we are doing, we need to give way when the time comes to retire. We should not find ways and means to delay this decision. This will harm the organisation more than we can imagine.

I have always believed that when working in an organisation I was aware the day I joined as to when I need to hang my boots and enjoy life as in the photo above.

Life is fair to everyone. We all need to realise that there is a beginning and end to everything in life. We can do everything to begin well, work hard and excel in whatever we do. But the day when we feel we have reached our peak, we should learn to give way.

Let us learn to give way always.

S Ramesh Shankar

18th November 2018

The generational shift…

All of us grow up hoping to study well, settle down and fulfil our life goals. Then we want to get married, have kids and be happy in life. This a natural human phenomenon. The relationship between parents and children is special. It is fun to spend time with your kids and play with them and see them grow up.

The real test for us as parents are when they grow up as adolescents. They turn rebellious and challenge us in our role as parents. We feel threatened because they question our role and even the support we provide them as parents. The feeling is like someone removing the umbrella from your head during a heavy downpour. We find it difficult to cope with this transition and try to manage the situation to the best of our abilities.

Some of us tend to look back at our own lives and recalling our teen age behaviourand accept this as the cycle of life. We believe that we did the same with our parents and now it is our turn. Others find it difficult, when challenged by their own children. Our values are threatened and questioned. Their habits, behaviour and social company becomes almost unacceptable to us. Our teenage children believe we are living in the past and are not willing to accept the present.

If you talk to psychologists or counsellors, they guide you to be friends with your kids. This is easier said than done. It is like a fire fighting drill. As long as it is a drill, all of us enjoy it and have fun. But, if a fire really breaks into our homes, we may not find it easy to handle. We feel as if the counsellors and psychologists are making us believe that dealing with adolescent or young adults at home as kids is like a fire fighting mock drill. Fun as a drill but difficult to practise in reality.

Life is different. The realities of this transition in your child’s behaviour is to be experienced to be believed. It is almost like a consultant giving advice on how to deal with a crisis in a class room. When the real crisis hits us neither the consultant is around nor we remember the strategy he taught us in the class. It is like all organisations have crisis management manuals prepared and certified by quality auditors. But when the real crisis hits us, neither the manual is readily available nor do we have the time to read and act as prescribed.

Then how do we prepare for this crucial stage of our life. Some of the tricks, which we have tried and tested are as follows. As parents, one of us can get closer to the child, evolving as a friend over a period of time. It may or may not work but it is worth a try. It is also useful to find out who in the inner circle of relatives and family friends is closest to our kids. We need to find the person whom the child trusts blindly and will be willing to confide in. This may help us enable the kid to share their concerns openly with them and thus minimise tension and perceived misbehaviour at home.

This phase of life teaches you that there is a generational shift. You suddenly realise that you have grown up and have children, who are from a different generation. It may also be useful to be in touch with the realities of today. The needs, wants, behaviours and motivation drivers for our kids is different today. We may or may not appreciate them but we need to accept them as our current reality.

As in the photo above, the generational shift is visible even in the organisational setting.

The earlier we face this reality, the faster we are likely to adapt and change. If we live in the past, the future may hit us harder. The future will become the present sooner than we realise. So, it is better to co create the future along with our kids by adapting to this changed phase of life rather than be a victim of the change.

Together , let us create the future.

S Ramesh Shankar

12th September 2018

Talent, aspirations & opportunities

Today there seems to be a mismatch between the talent in the market, their aspirations and the opportunities. The millennials of today are not keen on a 9 to 5 job. They want to pursue their passion cutting across organisational boundaries. While organisations may offer routine jobs, their aspirations may never be met.

What do we do in such a divergent environment ? While opportunities in the environment may change as per demands of the industry and the market, the aspirations of the next generation needs to be understood to be met.

Permanent employees may be a thing of the past in industry. We are moving towards a gig economy. This means jobs may be split and people may be available part time to share their knowledge and skills on a contractual basis. There will be neither permanent jobs nor permanent people in organisations.

Everything will be in a state of flux and change. While jobs will appear and disappear at frequent intervals, people may also keep changing their jobs and organisations as per their current aspirational needs. Thus aspirations will also keep changing with time. Nobody is going to stick to a particular organisation or profession for life.

A friend of mine was sharing with me that post his retirement after a long and illustrious career he was pursuing painting as his hobby. A few months later he informed me that painting was passé and now he was writing a novel. The aspirations of the millennials of tomorrow will be somewhat similar. It may change many times a year rather than even once in a few years.

Organisations have to redefine jobs to match these transcending aspirations. There has to be a market place for opportunities and aspirations to match. The cycle time for change will be frequent. This has to be managed through automation and artificial intelligence. It looks like there will be nothing permanent in life.

Even the personal lives of the future talent will be different. Family and marriage as institutions may fade away. The boundaries of a nuclear family may give way to living in partnerships as per mutual convenience. Marriage may no longer be a social pre requisite to have children and hence may disappear.

Organisations have to spend a lot of time and money to understand the aspirations of this generation. Sociologists and Anthropologists may play an active role in redefining roles and matching aspirations of the future talent. Thus organisational boundaries may fade away. Talent may work in multiple organisations as per their interests and time availability.

The talents today are like the balloons in the photo above.  Multi varied and with different and needs.  We need to create an environment where every talent blooms.

A new era where there will seem a dynamic relationship between opportunities, aspirations and availability of talent. Organisations which are flexible enough to match these changing trends will be successful in the market place. Organisations which continue with rigid job definitions may fade sooner than realise.

Flexibility may be the key to success.

S Ramesh Shankar

9th September 2018

Customer First, Employee Always

Our Customer pays our salary – every employee needs to understand this reality. This a bitter truth that many of us do not realise as the organisation grows and our brand matures in the market. We had a similar experience and hence launched a Customer first programme in our organisation. The objective of the programme was to keep our “Customers” in the centre of everything we do within the organisation.

We evolved five modules in this organisational intervention. They were Customer Intimacy, Customer First Culture, Reliable Execution, Service Excellence & Lean Processes. Each of the modules was led by a leadership team member and supported by a team. This led to our Customer Engagement scores more than trebling in 3 years. We focussed back on the customer within the organisation.

Now that the customer centricity was established, we shifted our focus to employees. We realised that while it is critical to focus on customers, it is equally important to keep employees highly engaged. It is true that if we treat employees well, they in turn would ensure that customers are happy always.

We launched an intervention and called it “People Matter”. We had a long tradition of training and certifying our project managers using global processes and standards. We took a leaf out of this experience and decided that we will train all our people managers and then certify them through a three stage process.

We identified a professional external partner and then trained more than 800 people managers and certified them. All of them went through a two day class room training. They they had to work out an action plan in three people management areas impacting their team and submit it. Then they had to implement their ideas and a feedback was taken from their team on their leadership style. This was followed by implementation and a follow up feedback from their team members to measure impact of their actions.

We found a cultural transformation permeating the entire organisation. I got phone calls, emails and personal feedback whenever I visited locations from team members. Many of them were positively surprised at the changes in their manager’s behaviour. It appeared that the program was making a impact in changing leadership behaviours.

We shared the best practices of various people managers across the organisation through newsletters and other communication channels. We invited the best people managers, who scored the highest to our annual business conference and enabled them to share their experience with the rest of the people managers.

The journey has just begun. We have supported this initiative by empowering people managers to decide the increments and promotions of their team members. We encouraged them to reward and recognise their team members in innovative ways. All new initiatives in the organisation were channelled through these people managers.

Great companies  believe that if they take care of their employees, they will take care of their customers as in the photo above.

Hence, customer first, employee always.

S Ramesh Shankar

25th August 2018