Saturday, August 18, 2007

Hero worship comes naturally over a period of time

"Ireland Malayali Association celebrates 50 years" - said a banner held up amongst the cheering crowd at a recent South Africa-India match. Amusing as the spectacle is, in it there is an analogy for the often prevalent dichotomy between corporate intent viz staff behavior. At odds with the venue and the spirit of cricket, the few people holding up the banner, so called cricket lovers, are symptomatic of how the staff actually behaves (promoting their association) vs. what the corporate intent is (a good game of cricket).
When such people slip into management roles, accustomed as they are, in beating their own insulated agendas, they block any corporate value/change management initiative from filtering down. HOD skills and the lack thereof, have thus quite naturally figured in most of the feedback I have received from the Industry on "Communications, It's a corporate Value" and "Well kept brands and unkept promises." It is a much debated topic and I had no intention to contribute more verbalese till provoked by the banner in Ireland.
To focus on what I speak about in this column, I would like you to visualize the company as a person. I write about this person's midriff - middle management - and the qualities that will make this midriff as slick and supple as the upper half -- top management - so that the midriff can power the bottom half - general employee base - in the right direction. To start with, let's dispense with two of the myths about the skill sets needed for the midriff.
Leadership skills -- It's one of those business jargons that are stuck in corporate India's gullet. The Machiavellian premise that this skill is essential to be an efficient head of department is just that...Machiavellian.
The real situation on the ground is that at the midriff level of a company hierarchy, there are no avenues to display "leadership" in the true intent of the word. Lets dispense with using it without reference to context.
People Management skills -- This is another misnomer, especially nowadays, with corporate India going mushy about its "most important best assets" - employees. I'm not sure of the origins of the phrase people management but it's near impossible that any person can actually "manage" another person -- at work or in personal life! What can be managed is work output so dispense with it. Let's just concentrate on the kind of mental make up that is required to be a good manager. Here are some of the actions that, me and you, as managers can do daily to manage the work output in the best possible manner. If we do so then we will create for our people a Blue Sky environment which will make them a force to reckon with. So here it goes:-
Busy is a four letter word! It keeps you away from experiencing people and events which have the capacity to make a positive impact on your professional and personal life. So don't use it to defend your bad time management. Don't replace "busy" with "I don't have the bandwidth", "I'm snowed under". Tough job you have so stop whining - you are paid more, so you have more pressure to handle and thus more accountability too...
Learn to be a fruitful member of a team where you are NOT the Team leader. This is most critical. Everybody can't be captain of the ship; a ship needs a foreman also! A lot can be done if we forget for a moment as to who will get the credit. No department can work in a silo. Most intelligent people are very efficient and have wonderful ideas when they are team leads. Otherwise they are pests. Your people will be better team players because they see those attributes in you...
Each member of your team is on an individual learning curve. Nudge each one up separately. It will take a lot of your time but will be well worth it. Besides like it or not, it's your job and your duty to the company you work for. Don't be obsessed with your ideas and vision. All ideas are not actionable so stop harping on them. The execution targeted work culture is important and it starts from you! Hero worship comes naturally over a period of time. Meanwhile if you have a young team, its certain that they are irreverent to your experience or indulge you as a future 'contact'. Just teach most of them a thing or two and leave it at that. Invest in those who will be your horses. In the points above is your retention strategy but don't be afraid of attrition either. Don't assume people are wedded to you, insist on proper handovers and enjoy the fresh mind which comes into your team. The time spent training new people is not a waste most of the time that is.
The next few points I'll elaborate more Be happy to be challenged by juniors and be gleeful as they struggle with the challenges you throw them as long as deadlines are met. Have fun at that, it's a great way to beat work stress. Make sure your people communicate well with other teams. Simply a person communicates by speaking, writing, listening and reading up before doing the former three so make sure they do all those simple things well even if you have to train them yourself. Create a career path. What does it mean in real terms? In one line, it's your hunger to create more and more jobs from within your portfolio which add value to your team's member resume and monetizes your Department's function brilliantly.
Finally, if you have a delinquent who won't learn, give him/her time to find an alternate job within a time frame. Make sure he gets a better farewell as compared to those who resigned willingly. All kinds of team cannot have the same strategy. The work they handle is not of similar strategic sensitivity nor are the tasks homogenous in nature. The tasks they do will result in their different temper triggers, different motivation levels , different thinking - often fresh and often stale. So clearly we are not talking about the midriff of BPOs here but most actions mentioned above will apply across industries. To sum up, to be a good manager it all boils down to being a person who provides a group of people reporting to him/ her, a blue sky environment , an environment which allows their individual personalities to develop, sometimes at the cost of the manager's own ego and time, and in doing so brings to an end the 'jobbing' genre of workers.
Over a period of time such a person induces genetic changes in the work culture of the company irrespective of the department s/he heads. This person's designation could be Team Lead, Project Manager, People Manager or HOD - it is irrelevant. What is relevant is that this is the kind of person who is an asset to a company trying to construct Chan Kim and Renee' Mauborgne's Blue Ocean strategy. Author is Vice President Corporate Communications, Apeejay Surrendra Group. These are her personal views.

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