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

Rituals in our lives…

Most of us have been following many rituals from our childhood without even knowing the reasons for following them. We follow rituals because our forefathers handed them over to our parents or elders and we inherited them.

A ritual is an action determined by tradition more than any other reason. It may or may not have any religious connotation. It could be like fasting during solar or lunar eclipses or even during certain festivals amongst some religious groups. Rituals go beyond religion too.

I am aware of some rituals, which are followed by individuals cutting across different faiths in India. It is like determining the auspicious time to inaugurate a new venture. Even the date and time to admit a child to a school. This gets more entrenched as it turns out to be lucky for some in their actions.

I have nothing against rituals. In my view it is each individual’s personal preference. What I am against is when a society tries to impose its rituals on everyone irrespective of their personal preferences. We recently had some controversies when the highest court of the land ordered that men and women have equal right to visit religious places. I fully support this view.

I cannot understand how religion can prevent a man or a woman to visit a religious place of his or her choice. I am aware that some religions prohibit women to enter religious places. I am against such religious dictates too. No religion should prevent a human being to enter a religious place of their choice.

I do agree that sometimes rituals were designed to discipline human beings. For eg., washing of hands before having a meal may be considered a ritual but it is more for hygiene rather than a ritual. Similarly washing of legs before entering a place of worship may have been prescribed more for hygiene than for ritualistic belief.

On the other hand, women not being allowed to a funeral ground to pay their last respects to their elders may be a ritual with no scientific basis. I am not even questioning anyone’s right to follow a ritual. What I am against is making it compulsory for someone against their wishes.

Every ritual will have a story. Many of the rituals may also have a scientific reason behind it. So, it may be unfair to say that all rituals are blind faith. My belief is that every human being is capable of making a choice. If the individual chooses to follow a ritual, so be it. If they do not want to follow it, let us respect that too.

As in the photo above, I learnt pranayama almost five decades back, but considered it a ritual those days as a child, while now I think it is a good breathing exercise for my wellness.

Every one of us learn rituals from our family, friends or society. Even organisations have rituals, which get embedded in the minds of their employees over time. Let us allow the individual to have the liberty to choose their rituals. No individual, family, community or organisation has a right to impose it on the individual.

Let human beings individually choose their rituals and not the other way around.

S Ramesh Shankar

1st September 2018

Leadership transition – Analog to the Digital age

One of the intriguing questions leaders ask me today is ” What has changed in leadership styles ? Why is there a need to change ? It is important to realise that we have moved from the analog to the digital age. The world around us has changed and so have we. If we have changed as humans then those who lead us have to change. There is a generational shift and expectations from leaders are different. The earlier we realise this, the better it may be for our effectiveness as a leader.

I have attempted to list six clear trends in our transition from the analog to the digital world and how it impacts us as employees and leaders. These trends are:

A. Sequential to Parallel – All our planning in life and work was sequential. Today we do not have the luxury to do so. Our thinking has to be parallel. A good example would be the time taken to launch a new car. In the best of times, it took 2 to 3 years from design to launch of a car. This was mainly because each step of design, development, prototyping, testing and launch was in sequential order. Today concurrent engineering, virtual reality, augmented reality etc ensures that we are able to do most of these steps parallelly. This has crunched the new product development time to months rather than years.

B. Hierarchical to Team based – Organisations were pyramidical. All the wisdom was believed to be residing at the top. The seniors led the way and the others mostly followed. It was inappropriate to think bottoms up and so on. Today, it has almost reversed. Organisations are team and project based. Hierarchy is minimal and ideas can be generated from anywhere. All attempts are made to take decisions at the lowest possible level and closest to our customers.

C. Perspirational to Inspirational – Leaders led by power and authority. There was a chain of command . Fear may or may not have been explicit but was existent in most organisations for the people in leadership positions. Today a successful leader has to be inspirational and lead by example. The moment we try to wield our power by status or position we are bound to be rejected by our team members. This is a soft change but critical to be understood.

D. Clarity to Ambiguity – All efforts in organisations were made to transition towards clarity and perfection. We had programs to achieve zero defect and six sigma in quality. Now these things are taken for granted. Our ability to deal with clarity is easy but it becomes more complex when we have to deal with ambiguity. Leaders who are not hassled by ambiguity are likely to be more successful than others.

E. Long term to Short Term – I used to work in a public sector organisation which had made a strategic plan for 25 years way back in the eighties. All organisations evolved vision and mission with at least a decade in mind. Today, most of us think from one quarter to another. In a lighter vein, it is called the QSQT ( quarter se quarter tak – meaning from one quarter to the next quarter). It is difficult to anticipate what is likely to happen in the short term and hence it may be unimaginable to think long term.

F. Known to Unknown journey – Today organisations are plagued by an uncertain and unpredictable environment, unlike the past. It is a journey for leaders from one unknown to another unknown. It is the ability of a leader to steer their team into the realms of the unknown, which could make them successful. It is like leaders who can show the beacon light in darkness, who will succeed not the others.

Leadership has moved from predictability to managing uncertainties. If one is able to thrive in chaos, the chances of success are higher than failure. Further, if failures are considered as learning journeys, leaders are likely to be more effective than in the past. The analog world was sequential and predictable. The digital world is disruptive and uncertain.

As in the photo above, the leader has to lead by example by showing the way rather than telling it.

Let us learn to lead the different way in the digital age.

S Ramesh Shankar

23rd August 2018

Freedom at various life stages

Freedom could mean different things to different people. It could mean completion of exams for anxious students. It could be the end of tumultuous marriage for a married couple. It could mean transfer from a harassing boss for an employee and so on. Each of us cherish our freedom and want it our way.

Let us examine freedom from a child’s point of view. Every child wants to express oneself without any restrictions. A child wants to study, play or talk depending on the mood they are in. They hate the restrictions on learning through compulsory home work or the system of exams. They also hate parents restricting their play time or hobbies and when they are forced to study. They find it restrictive when they are asked to be quiet by elders especially when they are keen to express themselves.

As you grow into youth, one tends to become a rebellious radical. Every norm of society is a challenge and you feel like drawing your own rules and norms in society. As young adults you want to be the director of your own destiny. You do not like advice unless sought for. You feel better off when you are alone and charter your own future.

Adulthood imposes responsibilities on you. This also feels like needless restrictions on a free flowing spirit. The competitive spirit of the environment around you makes you feel that you are not in control of your future. While you want to work hard, you find it difficult to balance dreams and reality. The inability to pursue your passion makes you disappointed at times.

As you have kids and move to the next generation, you tend to believe that the next generation has more freedom than you ever had. This may not be actually true but one finds it difficult to accept to let go of things you could never do in your childhood or youth. As your kids rebel, reality knocks on your door and you blame the society and environment for this change.

Then as your children grow into adults and have their own kids, you tend to think that they are restrictive on your grand kids. This means a generation gap has already emerged. You re enact what your parents did to you. The cycle of life takes a full circle. It may be time to reflect and restart your view on life.

As we experience life, life teaches you the true meaning of freedom. Is freedom absolute or relative ? In a democracy, we tend to believe that freedom is absolute. However, in reality freedom tends to be relative. Do you have more freedom than your friends, relatives or family members. Even some members of the family tend to believe that they have more freedom than the others.

Even at the work place, freedom is perceived differently by different people. Some feel empowered and take decisions effortlessly. On the other hand, some people in the same organisations in similar roles, feel disempowered. This means empowerment is taken, not given. It takes time and a positive attitude to life and work to understand this concept. Sometimes, by the time one realises this concept, it may be too late.

As in the photo above, freedom could be to be just alone in the hills.

Lets define what freedom means to us and live it the way .

We are born to be free.

S Ramesh Shankar

15th August 2018

Technology & HR


Everyone today is talking about technology and its impact on people. The impact on people could be from different perspectives. Let us examine it from the angle of impacting life and living.

I grew up in an era where the computer was not around nor the television in homes. Both these appeared in our offices and homes post the eighties in most countries and homes. How have they changed our lives ? Our quality of life has improved materially and physically although may have deteriorated emotionally ?

I remember many unions especially in banks were worried about introduction of computers and had resisted it for some time. Today a bank cannot imagine its existence without computers. We as customers do most of our banking ourselves on computers or mobiles. Has it impacted bank employees ? I would say it has helped the bank employees to improve the quality of their work and their productivity.

I believe the impact of technology will be similar in the future as well. Technology may develop more rapidly in the future than in the past. The quality of our lives and living may improve further. However, the same technology may be helpful if we are willing to use it prudently.

Let us examine the impact of technology on employees from a Human Resources perspective across the employee’s life cycle process – from recruitment to retirement. Technology may help in screening and assessing candidates more objectively and much faster. But I cannot imagine whether even artificial intelligence will ever be able to substitute human judgement in the future.

While it is true that a “Alexa” or IBM Watson may be able to derive logic from tons of data available to them but still may not be able to beat human judgement. It is like the development of technology, which brings the best of cameras in the world every day but none of them have been able to beat the human eye as a camera in its capacity and delivery.

We could trust computers and artificial intelligence to help in addressing routine tasks and also developing them in employees. However, the ability to respond intuitively like a human being may not be a reality in the near future. Even today the Alexa and Watson depend on inputs from human beings and programmers to derive logic from data fed into them.

Now, if we move to assessing and motivating employees, we need to examine the impact of technology. Technology can help us in objective performance assessment but the ability to empathise may not be replicable like a human being. I am aware of robots performing all types of tasks including love making but all of it will be without any emotions.

Similarly technology may help in making more precise decisions including in exits. However, human judgement is a combination of logic and gut. Logic can be built in by technology but not the gut. Most of the times in our lives, our decisions are based on gut and not by logic.

I believe technology will change life for the better in the future. But, no technology can substitute human emotions. We need to use  technology for improving our quality of life without getting impacted on our emotions. Today, we are willing to embrace technology and are increasingly losing the human touch.

Its like technology enables you to take a beautiful selfie without much effort as in the photo above. However, if we end up getting drowned in the sea taking a selfie on the beach, whom should we blame ?

Let technology lead us to a better tomorrow and we continue to trust human relationships to improve both technology and ourselves.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th May 2018