human resources

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Fresh MBA Hirability – A Practical Industry/College Solution

Published November 4, 2017 by vishalvkale

An article in The Hindustan Times today caught my eye –  Fewer than half of new MBA graduates getjobs as economy sputters, trend at 5-year low. The articles open with a hard punch to your gut : “Job offers for fresh management graduates in India are at a five-year low, official data show, a trend experts blame on a sluggish economy as well as a mismatch between the years-old curriculum and industry expectations…. In 2016-17, just 47% of Master of Business Administration (MBA)graduates got placed on the campus, a dip of 4% over the previous year, marking a five-year low. At 12%, the drop was far sharper for postgraduate diploma holders.
Image Source : from HT Article linked above


I said this on my blog nearly 4 years ago – there is a dire need to revisit the MBA Curriculum; but it isn’t the only aspect of this problem. I say this with authority, as I have seen both sides – having been a Visiting Faculty, as well as a current Industry Veteran. There is an issue with the MBA Course, but correcting it requires a will; it requires a combination of fresh talent in MBA Colleges – Industry Veterans who should team up with Academicians for solving this complex problem. At the same time, Industry needs to invest in training – which it doesnt; it needs to re-visit the entire Performance Management System, which is hopelessly obsolete, number oriented and simply fails to capture the modern reality of business; it also needs to set up realistic expectations from new recruits. Let us consider these two problems one-by-one in detail
THE MBA COURSE
The view that all in wrong in the MBA Course is inaccurate – for any number of reasons. First of all, the MBA Course is an introduction to Business & Management, and establishes the fundamentals in business – without which we are lost. In my experience – all the courses I have been associated with, do it admirably, at least in letter. The difficulty is the absence of proper teaching aids – and I don’t mean AV equipment. Frankly, they are enablers; we require content. And content is the real issue – there is a need to revisit the content of the books, and make them more relevant.
The content is woefully inadequate in terms of Indian Examples. As a Management Book Reviewer and avid reader of Management Research Books,

  • ü I have observed many-a-time that I am yet to read too many Indian Institutes & teachers coming out with real  case studies on the Indian Market and Brands, as also Management Thought. We aren’t creating intellectual property – which is the real issue. Simply making cosmetic changes to the course will not suffice.  
  • ü Add to this the Language and Affordability barrier – content and books are damned costly, and in English, which is a major barrier
  • ü You need to make the content richer in terms of relevance to Indian Markets, which will enable deeper learning and also provide a deeper connect with students as they can easily relate.
  • ü The course as such is just fine; there is little that is missing. It needs to be made more contemporary in these terms.
The MBA Course is supposed to give basics of Business, Marketing, Finance, etc to prospective employees for the corporate sector; this is what it does. 



  • ü What it doesn’t do is – give a connect with the realities of the Indian Market. That is why we need Indian Original Content, not copied Western thought.
  • ü In addition to this, there is a need for students to do more realistic projects on all subjects; the course is far too theoretical, and gives the students zero idea of the domestic realities. The marking system needs to incorporate genuine brain-work on realistic projects, not just exams. 


  • The way to do this is simple –
  • ü deeper Industry College interaction; and
  • ü lateral hires at Professor level for MBA College teaching options
  • ü Given the lesser stress, it will be easy to attract talent for the universities;
  • ü this will require a re-visit of the qualification norms, and the development of precise judgement criterion to ensure the lateral hires fit in, have knowledge of their domain, and can contribute positively.
  • ü The pitfalls of hiring only basis visible achievement is inaccurate, as designation is no guarantor of true ability and knowledge, which needs to be kept in mind.



CORPORATE INDIA

In the paragraph above, I stress deeper Industry-College interaction; this cannot happen unless Industry understands that it is a part of the problem. I stated in the opening that both the colleges and the companies are responsible for the glut; let me add a third factor here – the students. The industry grouse that the MBA expects too much and knows too little is grounded in reality, that much is sadly true. But with deeper interaction – this can be attended to, as the reality sinks into students. Before blaming the students, we need to accept that we are making no effort to educate them as well.
The key question is, how will this interaction happen? This can only happen in the Human Resources Function, and some other staff functions; for reasons I attend to later on in the article. 
  • ü One possible way is regular interaction of HR / Staff function managers with a selected bunch of colleges – in terms of lectures by managers – properly curated by the College in terms of content;
  • ü Co-hosting real-time tiny projects in real scenarios, which same to be designed to be of very short {daily projects}, short {week-fortnight} projects.
  • ü An example of a daily project could be market survey of all retail counters in a street – which will take only 2 hours; or checking documentation in back-office etc. This can be suitable added on by a thorough training intervention – which should be regular, not sporadic.
  • ü Even a child requires help to walk; and a fresh MBA is a Child in the Big Bad World of Corporates.
The other aspect that needs attending to – the toning down of expectation from new hires. That will not happen unless you re-design the entire PMS – which leaves no scope for learning, or real training. I understand we are in a hypercompetitive market; and that bottom and top lines need to be achieved; but chasing numbers mindlessly, without heed to basics is fraught with even higher risks – as many in my parent sector, Telecom, found much out to their chagrin. There needs to be a balance between pure numbers, and business basics – and at all levels. You need to judge strategic ability at all levels – and this is even more vital in a hypercompetitive market, where the cost of a strategic misjudgement and improper strategic implementation are the precise same – Business Closure.
The list of companies that have paid the price for the above is incalculable; we need to do both – hit our numbers while also ensuring long-term stability of the business as a running enterprise. This we have clearly failed to do in many cases. And once you shift focus to the nitty gritty of business – the nuts n bolts, the basics – the need for a strong fundamental and theoretical basis will emerge ever more strongly. You don’t need an MBA to just hit numbers, to be brutally frank; but you need a good thinking and  trained MBA to be able to judge the medium and long-term impact of your short-term tactics even at field level, and  modulate your responses in the field accordingly.

  • CONCLUSION – INDUSTRY
  • ü Industry expects immediate numbers;
  • ü industry expects top performance without any time for learning; 
  • ü industry expects a softened person, whose edges have been rubbed off.
  • ü All three require training and experience.
  • ü You need people – so why not associate with idenitified universities – in Tier B and C towns and colleges as well and step in in a win-win situation?
  • ü Second, as a line manager myself – I too feel at risk when I used to go for a fresher; the risk to me personally, or my team targets, as well as the complete absence of a support mechanism or space in operation deny me the space to create my own strategies. {That is one reason why I feel this initiative has to be owned by the staff functions}
  • ü This, in a nutshell, is the gist of the problem on the company side, which is complex mutli-layered problem with no easy solutions…
CONCLUSION – COLLEGES

  • ü On the education side – they also need to do the same as above; they need to open up and admit lateral hires, as well as be more open to partnerpships with companies.
  • ü Create Intellectual Property of your own… invest in Research, papers, books creation on the Indian Market, and make them publicly available. Don’t treat them as classified secrets!
  • ü Revise the course to make it more contemporary
  • ü Increase the practical work importance, content and relevance so that students are in touch with reality!

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Book Review – Make Success A Habit ; 50 Stories That Enlighten, Empower, Energise and Entertain

Published October 23, 2017 by vishalvkale

This current book under review is quite unlike any I have reviewed, with only one – Subir Chaudhury’s The Difference – making as much of a connect with me – as a professional. As a person, this book has connected with me big-time; but that is something I will reserve for a private conversation / communication with the Author, Mukul Deva. Almost every page of this book, taken seriously, is a learning and an experience. In light of the above preamble, let me depart from normal custom or style, and quote lines from an iconic Hindi song, one which came to my mind as I was reading one of the stories contained in this collection of 50 real life case studies.

इक दिन बिक जाएगा, माटी के मोल
जग में रह जाएंगे, प्यारे तेरे बोल
दूजे के होंठों को, देकर अपने गीत
कोई निशानी छोड़, फिर दुनिया से डोल
इक दिन बिक जायेगा   …
{Source : Lyricsindia.net}
We, in the daily humdrum of business, rarely give time to focus on the small, tiny and seemingly irrelevant, or unimportant, or lesser vital, or basic issues & habits that go into making us a professional and a person. So acute is our focus on ourselves, our KRAs, our lives, our desires, our ambitions  that we forget these rock-bottom basics. These are the bedrock of life; be it personal or be it professional. This exclusive focus tends to take us away from our maximum potential, rather than make us more effective in achieving our potential. That is why we need to re-train, re-charge, re-focus, and look for – introspect – analyse ourselves to make us better people and better professionals.

Mukul Deva

That, in a nutshell, is the lesson I have drawn from this book. Now the question in your mind ought to be, what is that song doing in between a perfectly reasonable business discussion? That brings me to the story number 45 in the book – my own sticky pad notes on it should be self-explanatory. I wrote : In this {story}, the lesson is that the basics of care, honour, decency, respect & importance should be provided with and to each person we speak to – professionally as well as personally. The lines above also says much the same – in an oblique fashion; if we can get others to sing our tune – we are done. They wont sing freely unless they like, understand & agree to it! The key here is that this is not a theory – this is told through a real life success & turnaround story.
All too often, we treat people roughly, or don’t listen to them, or half-listen, or insult, or ignore them – leading to long-term damage down the line. The impact of this behavour on business bottom and top lines, professional relationships etc  is amorphous in real life – in this book, a clear line has been drawn for us. And this is something that repeated in 50 case studies, all around small with vital aspects in Business or in life.
You have stories around communication, team handling, development and management – building scalability – sustainability – performance in teams / developing teams and members; personal development -goal setting, thought management; simple yet often ignored managerial processes, the importance of sticking to the basics and fundamentals in this ever-increasingly paced life, values & ethics, training self to inculcate process oriented thinking, leadership & leadership roles; and more.
This is a review – not a summary; therefore, I have to stop here. But, let me organize the above into some fashion of order. The stories contend around Leadership, Team Management, Team Development, Personal Development in broad categories. The various real life case studies together provide a multi-faceted look at different parameters of the above broad categories. Each story has names and details changed – but is a real story, from a Business perspective. Here you will learn the importance of the small, the basic, and the intangible things that separate good from great is the way I put it.  
That said, I do have a grouse; it was surprising to note top managers not having a connect with, or not giving importance to, some things that are clearly basic to any business : a shared  vision, values, ethics, basic decency, team development, empowerment etc are all fundamental requirements of a strong performing sustainable and scalable team. Without these, the team may return excellent performance over a short period – but will lack sustainability and scalability. A leader needs to, above all, ensure that teams and their performance are sustainable and scalable. That is precisely what goes wrong as sales go up, and resultant quality and customer experience goes down – leading to sales losses!  And this book also teaches us the way we can avoid that pitfall!

Now, all stories will not hold equal attraction for all – there may be some areas where you are doing fine. Thus, you have to pick and choose. Question is – how do you pick? The only way you can judge where you yourself are upto speed is do the small questions at the end of each case study – these questions are self-analytical, and provide insights as to where you need to work on. I used sticky notes to annotate my thoughts where I found relevance to me  to work on. But that is my style; you can do it any way you choose to.  All in all, rated 5 stars, must read book for businesses and professionals alike!

The Power Of Energy – A Business Tool Like No Other

Published October 13, 2017 by vishalvkale

The L&D Rendezvous on the 8th of October at the SILC Pune will remain etched in my memory for more reasons than one; in my previous article I highlighted one reason – Snehwan. But the event, and my overall experience being a part of the Core Team at L&D Global Pune Chapter, has had many learnings and ramifications for me as a professional. Being a Line Function Manager & all that comes with it – the good and the bad, meant that this experience was a truly defining one for me as I document in this write-up; this is despite me being a former Visiting Faculty in Brand & Advertising Management, and having handled training assignments in corporates as well as extensive cross-functional projects.
THE L&D Pune Chapter
My introduction to L&D Pune chapter was a direct outcome of my business blogging and non-fiction books blogging, which lead me to getting in touch with a variety of professionals outside my core function and specialty, {which is and remains Telecommunications / Technology / ECommerce and Channel Sales / Marketing / Business Management / Logistics} – including top Management thinkers / gurus and cross-functional exposure to a variety of domains, whose utility in broadening my horizons I cannot understate. This is not tooting my own horn; I am just underlining that I was not new to cross-functional teams, neither was I a frog-in-the-proverbial-well person.
This habit, or rather, this disconcerting habit {apparently, impression is sales persons don’t read} got me in contact with some LnD professionals, as well as Writers; leading to an association with a fast-upcoming Writers connect outreach, which I shall subsequently document once things are clearer. It was as a result of this that I got in touch with the L&D Global Team Pune Chapter, where I got associated more out of curiosity and without any real expectations, to be honest. Well, I was wrong. Period.


The Difference
The stunning openness, willingness to experiment, learn from juniors, seniors, and easy relaxed rapport impressed me; this was clearly a professional outfit. And yet,despite being hobbyists all, with no personal financial interest in the venture – if you can call it that – their level of commitment, and their thoroughly professional approach and planning floored me. This is difficult to master even in hierarchical teams, as all Line Managers are only too well and painfully aware. But beyond all this, was the transparent enthusiasm – and here I learnt perhaps my biggest corporate lesson.
THE L&D PUNE CHAPTER EVENT TEAM


For decades, Management Thinkers have waxed eloquent of the role of positivity, enthusiasm in Business execution in particular and Business in general. I have documented several management books on this blog itself, and a few also touch on this point. Like most Line Managers {Yup, gross generalization here, basis personal experience}; I remained leery and dismissive of this, for the perfectly  simple reason that I found, through self experience as well as discussions with my teams and peers, that finding or inculcating such a team was next to impossible in the real world. Here, in this team – devoid of documented controls, was the clear proof of the theories written in the books… the enthusiasm, commitment, energy levels, common association with objectives and the way it impacted overall team performance was and is an education. The way this team overcame level, status & achievement differences was exemplary. Stay connected with my blog as I progress further in my hunt for the truth, and how can we create such vibrant teams…
THE EVENT
The preamble above is, in my opinion, vital to understanding events; I have a habit of documenting each significant self-learning on my blog here insofaras it pertains to Business, Management or Indian History; and this preamble will enable my readers to get some vague idea of the energy and spirit of the people behind the event. It is the energy of the people planning and executing that gets translated into quality – be it a product or be it an event. We saw in my latest book review of Management Thought {The Difference: When Good Enough Isnt Enough – Subir Chaudhury} how small things can translate into big epochal business impact. Well, these small things did translate into  vibrant and alive event.
I have seen many events, planned and executed, helped in – many – CXO events, Sales Events; from that perspective I can honestly state this one I attended from LnD Global was among the top drawer events I have attended. We had some 63+ paying members in attendance – all professionals, making for a very targeted and interested audience, as well as alive with energy. They were here to learn and to contact; their interest was two-fold, and it showed.


The focus areas were two learning platforms – Power Negotiations, a panel discussion; and Leadership and Innovation Strategies, A Masterclass. The Power Negotiation Panel was suitable high-profile, fielding an IAS Officer at Director Level, two CEOs-MDs, and one Head of Learning & Development of a top Indian Firm. Given the subject of Power Negotiations, this enabled a wide-spectrum participative look at negotiation as a Business Skill


The keynote speaker was the CEO of Sakal International Learning Center, Mr Debashish Biswas, who took a Leadership and Masterclass Strategy session, which was the frontispiece of the event. One can write volumes on this subject; so I shall desist from describing it, or indeed the one above. My Take-away from this masterclass is my preferred focal point in this article : which was the relevance of staying updated, current – in the words of the keynote speaker – reinventing oneself. I am proud that I have done this throughout my career – but out of a pure play passion, a desire to learn, read, re-skill, try new tasks even in my job {Handling Port Stevedoring Operations for import, or training, or faculty}; I never thought of this as a powerful tool. Until the 8th of October, that is.
Conclusion

This was a paid event – was it worth it? Yes, it was; it cleared my brain, my mind; gave me a kick in the proverbial ***, {excuse my language please – cant put it any better}, and taught me a lot. But most importantly, it was infectious with positivity and free flowing energy, which has a tendency to rub off on others  as well. That, and the fact that it gave me confidence, ideas – rekindled my passion, as well as put me in touch with like-minded professionals made it one hell of an experience. Would I attend one again? Sure I would – spending from my own pocket. Why shouldn’t I? I stand to benefit! And the icing on the cake was I met someone like Mr Ashok Deshmane… to know more about him, click this link

De-Stressing The Corporate Job While Retaining Competitive Ability – 1

Published June 18, 2017 by vishalvkale

One of the rising themes of management discussion is the concept of work-life balance, compounded by rising stress in corporate life in India; quite a lot has been written about how we need to lessen the stress. Another theme is the concept of how Indian Managers don’t take or get leave too often, or rising lifestyle disease incidence and about rising burnout cases and so  on. Most articles I have read emphasize on a lot of points as a solution – namely, advocating leaves / smaller working hours / de-stressing and so on… sadly, most of these don’t take the overall corporate atmosphere into account.
LITTLE ALTERNATIVE TO THE STATUS QUO
Let me take a divergent view – that there actually little alternative to what is taking place, at least as of now. And the reason for that is that the current realities highlighted above are actually the symptoms of a larger malaise, or rather problem. We need to examine the overall atmosphere in which a modern corporate operates, the external environment.  Any processes and policies, even on the personnel front, need to be in keeping with this external environment and its relevant factors.
FACTORS OF THE REALITY STATED ABOVE
And these factors are : High growth economy in comparison to the developed world, newly opened to external pressures, increasing competition both internally as well as externally, the current work culture in India, massive gap in demand and supply of jobs, rapid rise in information availability – the information revolution. These factors intertwine together to create a situation where no other approach, at least majorly, is feasible.
Taken together, these impose virtually crippling constraints on Corporations; and the cost of ignoring the brutal demands imposed by the market can at times be too huge, resulting even in shutting of companies – leaving thousands jobless. That is not an alternative that bears contemplation. However, it doesn’t stop at these factors, as the two most crippling factors that stifle innovation while also affecting work culture is something that isn’t limited to Corporate India  – our Chaltaa Hai Attitude & our penchant for selfishness and corruption. These two will be analysed fully in the next article on this theme; as their impact cuts across functions, industries and levels, seriously eroding both innovation  as well as competitive ability, dampening enthusiasm & hampering winning strategies & thoughts.
SUMMARY ANALYSIS OF THE IMPACT OF THESE FACTORS
You have an external atmosphere, a culture where people habitually work long hours, even Sundays; where the in-thing is to be seen to be working hard. Add to this, fast growing competition, information revolution, and demand-supply gaps everywhere – and you are looking at certain marketshare losses if you buck the trend; or a certain job loss for yourself – as the pressure on your manager will hit your relationship, or both. If your specific industry involves long hours, and you alone strike out on your own – you could be looking at serious losses unless the shift in work pattern is strategized carefully.
The source of stress & diseases, tiredness is not just time-  but pressure as well. And even in that, I see little alternative, for the current method is the way we in Corporate India have been conditioned to operate under. Given the huge Demand-Supply gap, fact is that any employee at any level can be easily replaced without any loss of operational efficiency. A high attrition rate has little discernible impact on the overall operative efficiency of an organization so long as it is not too far out of hand. Sure – it has massive strategic implications & damage – but the modern manager is not trained to think along strategic lines, neither do most HR processes allow for any room for strategy at the levels where it should matter.
MODERN LIFE IS A CAULDRON
Modern Life is a cauldron – make no mistake about that. I suspect that most career lines will have similar problems, given the overall interplay of the factors outlined above. In a highly competitive atmosphere – stress will rise. That is the nature of competition. The problem isn’t the stress, or the late hours, or such things; they are symptoms of something else – and that something else is what we need to look for in our quest to unlock potential, lessen disease incidence, and enable better stress-handling capabilities of our employees.
In this series of articles on corporate stress and rising disease incidence, I will attempt to look at these factors in detail, and specify what that something else is, before embarking on the hunt for a solution to these issues. For now, my advise to newcomers to this life – adjust to it, and as fast as possible. Find out at the earliest possible moment from the time you graduate as to what helps you de-stress, and then nurture that; it will prove invaluable to you in the long run.
THE REAL ISSUES AT HAND
Coming to the point of the article-  the “something else”, the core reason why stress, disease etc are rising in Corporate India. This is isn’t any one, definable aspect; but rather a jumble of many intertwined major challenge areas : namely, competitive ability & skills – on personal as well as organizational levels;  internal core organizational processes {Pay, R&R, JD, Line Processes, Decision Making support systems, ethics, complaint redressals, PMS} not keeping pace with the external environment; organizational structures {size, span, power matrix, power collusion} not developing fast enough to meet & match external threats; and the most critical failure of all – the total failure of most organizations in my personal knowledge to tap into available information, collate it,  and use it properly…

It is the delicate interplay of these complex factors operating at individual, group, team & organizational levels that collude to create the problems and challenges you see around you. The organizations that manage these in older industries succeed more often than not; while in new industries, the organisations that succeed in incrementally improving these slowly rise above the rest, and take a commanding control of the initiative in the market. This series will, over the next few months, take a look in detail at each parameter… stay connected!

Measuring Performance – An Alternative Systems & Technological Approach

Published April 20, 2017 by vishalvkale

MEASURING PERFORMANCE

Performance and its measurement is, at the best of times, one of the most complex tasks a modern organization can engage in; capturing all the small and big, vital and not-so-vital indices in the “chart” without rubbing too many people the wrong way and without causing heartburn is an impossible task. This is a task at which the best minds in this business have either failed, or had partial success at. Thus, let me at the outset clarify that this article is mindful of the above reality, and the enormity and the impact of the task I am analyzing.

ARE CURRENT SYSTEM ADEQUATE?

However, after a rather deep study and considerable mental mathematics that go along with it, I have come to the conclusion that while the current systems that I have seen are adequate, and do as reasonable a job as it is feasible to do under the given constraints and market realities – there remains tremendous scope for improvement. This scope covers topics that are increasingly relevant to the ever-changing ground reality,  and are now increasingly becoming vital to not just great & continued business performance – but in some cases, the very survival of organisations.

REAL EXAMPLES

I approach this matter from the perspective of my function – Sales, to drive home my points. All examples used herein are real, only names and precise details have been withheld for obvious reasons. First, let me establish a few examples from 2 industries that are critical to the further points being made :
1.  Company 1 had a sales loss of between 50-60% {estimated} in the space of just one year. That same company was saddled with huge inventories of finished products that had to be liquidated. Thus, new product introduction was slow in a market changing at a blinding speed.
2.  Companies 2 & 3 lost the confidence of its entire distribution in several states {5-6 that I am personally aware of}.
3.  Company 4 lost its marketshare by 14% over a period of time, as the two main competitors clicked in the market thanks to a series of successful new product launches, smarter distribution and accounting policies and a robust marketing plan
4.  Company 5 had inventories amounting to several months of finished products
5.  Company 6 came in with a revolutionary Sales Strategy – everyone laughed in the trade- Retail, Distribution, etc. 4 years later, it is a major player without compromising. This same company also had excellent but premium priced products in its portfolio
6.  Companies 1,  5 and 7, 8 and 9 lost their marketshares, which were eroded by huge margins as they failed to anticipate the trend.

MISSED WARNINGS

Look at the above examples; most of the people in the trade would probably put it down to the business cycle; but look again. It so happens, there were enough hints present on the ground in each and every example that should have given Managements a hint that something was changing, and that they need to adapt – and adapt as fast as possible. And yet, in each case, the warning signs were missed. I don’t blame them – the teams were too busy meeting targets, firefighting, ensuring continued market presence in retail and distribution to worry too much regarding overall macro trends, and mid-range threats.
Why should this be so? This is a complicated question to answer- and yet, this is the one question which needs to be answered. Quite a few people in my personal circle were aware of some of the parameters; we do discuss. One person I know very accurately noted the rise of a new competitor and a new trend in the market in one example above; another one – one of my reportees – noted a trend-shift, and bluntly said, what difference does it make? I am not going to worry. If things get hot, I will simply move on. We noted the shift in consumer preferences in another example, which grew into a tidal wave very shortly.

LEAD INDICATORS OF CHANGE

The point I am making is that in each of the above examples, there was knowledge, there were hints available in the staff and in the business partners and the channel that either the strategy is not working – or that the realities are changing. The first hints almost always become evident much before actual change; and yet – in each case, disaster struck as listed in the bullet points above. This clearly represents a straightforward gap in the overall Market Intelligence System of the organisations. Not only that, given that Managers were rewarded, {I myself have been awarded large  variable payouts} – and despite this, the company/s lost big-time. Now that, I respectfully submit – needs an explanation.

IS THE PMS REALLY TO BLAME?

Prima Facie, it would seem that the PMS is to blame. Now what if I make a paradoxical claim – that the PMS was not at strictly fault – and neither was anyone else? And no, it is not an issue of the Business Cycle either. Each cog in the system was doing the Job it was perceived as being designed to do. In such a scenario, you cannot apportion blame to any one function or person. What actually happened is the External Environment changed so much that it put the internal processes that run the organization out of sync with the market and the prevalent trends. The perception that the organizational processes achieved in the eyes of everyone was a direct result of this delicate imbalance : people forget that the market is dynamic; and thus, the processes have to be updated regularly!
Vital data points were not reaching the decision makers; the middle management and junior management was in fire-fighting mode; there was lack of connect between companies and the staff; finances were increasingly strained as it cost more and more to get the same sales and even lessening sales; in some cases it was an issue of survival for employees… this is par for the course when the external environment changes at too rapid a pace – or changes too much. This increases overall system stress, leading to the issues and results pointed out above.

A VICIOUS CYCLE

This created a vicious circle, as employees, instead of changing with the times, had no option but to keep on doing the same tasks in the same way, when the situation demanded a radically different approach. At this point the key question should have been – how to change this behaviour? In at least one firm, this question was asked; but the chosen answers taken were wrong. This again points to insufficiency of data in the system, leading to incorrect assumptions. Instead, the taken strategy paradoxically refurbished cynicism within the ranks, that the old methods are the ones that Management is looking for as the new strategy lacked depth and was not in consonance with the coming market changes on the field!

A POSSIBLE ANSWER

What is the source of the requisite data for decision making within an organization? One is the Market Intelligence Network, and the other is the Performance Measurement System. The first is amorphous in nature, not defined at the first 3-4 levels of the structure, and the second, which gives periodic status reports to Management on the company direction – clearly did not capture the trends, else the damage would obviously not have been so severe and so debilitating. You have to have a method in place to identify, capture and escalate these trends and events that can have serious import.
Unless the relevant market inputs are properly captured within the system & reach the decision levels in any organization in a clear logical format, change cannot happen. This isn’t easy to do; but such changes always have lead indicators, the precise nature of which depend on the industry. Identifying and tracing these lead indicators can generate actionable Market Intelligence. And that is the point on which, using Big Data, Analytics can be successfully used in the Sales Function…  Details in next part…

The Skill Gap – 2 : The Way Forward; Focus On What You Can Change

Published July 1, 2014 by vishalvkale

I am penning this article based on my experience as a corporate guy with nearly 16 years work experience cutting across Indian companies, as well as MNCs. What makes me slightly different is that I have been a visiting faculty in 3-4 management institutes, and have managed to develop relationships with quite a few students. These institutes range from top ones to unknown ones, and thus represent the entire cross-spectrum.

I am also an active blogger, and regularly attend blogger meets across platforms like Indiblogger and Blogadda, where I meet and mix with teens, 20-somethings as well as 30-somethings.

Thus, I have seen the so-called “unskilled” people at 4 levels –

* hiring manager;

* team leader / area manager / segment manager / regional manager;

* Professor and/or guide

* Friend, or group member, having been talking to and conversing with them as one of them.



THE BACKDROP

As I observed in my previous post on this – The Great Indian Skill Gap, the so-called Skill Gap is vastly different from the perception. I have read several news articles that wax eloquent on this, as well as a few surveys – all have the same verbiage and meaning; but fall short on specifics, Furthermore, most are a survey of hiring managers, and are frankly based on the gift of gab. This is by no means in the category of an exhaustive research. 


The answers to the questions are based on personal experience, and the background of that experience, the company policies, industry realities, specifics KRA requirements etc is not taken into account. 

The phraseology is wonderfully indistinct, and proves nothing either way. What does “lack of technical competencies” mean in specific terms? It can mean anything under the sun. It needs to be specific, this is just a general statement. This statement can also be construed to mean that companies are setting the bar way too high. This is way too general a statement, and we can draw no conclusion based on this. The technical competencies vary widely with the role, function and the industry. There can be no generalisation; we can conclude nothing based on these reports. 

Frankly, it could also mean that employer expectations are rising too fast, and employer willingness to invest in training is waning too fast. This hypotheses has not been tested; hence, one simply cannot draw the conclusion that there is a skill gap from such data unless the reverse hypotheses is tested, and not on hiring managers, but on a more exhaustive research. Only then can we state anything for certain!


ABOUT SKILL SETS AND COMPETENCIES

It is not about setting the bar high; it is about hiring for skills that are just not required for on-the-job performance! Our intake process does not measure KRA-Specific skills, but rather wavers all over the place, including all and sundry items in addition to job-specific skills in the guise of gauging personality. And the fun of it is that this judgement is passed by people who themselves have precisely zero knowledge of psychology, or personality! The entire process is highly subjective and prone to error which is perhaps why frequently positions go unfilled or hiring gets delayed. 

And the description “technical competencies” cannot be so vague – especially not in a high-level report, on which basis strategic vision documents are created. It has to be specific – and it will vary from industry to industry. For example, for underwriting in insurance, the core skill is knowledge of documents & their veracity; basic finance; insurance theories, concepts and processes; and so on. No college teaches these skills; and oral communication is not a pre-requisite. Neither is an excellent knowledge of English a requirement, given that documents can also be presented in the Vernacular. 

Anything else is frankly immaterial insofaras underwriting is concerned. A similar case can be stated for other functional skills – the moment you go specific, you realise that the organisations are equally responsible for bloating the entire affair out of all proportion. I say this as I have seen all sides of the coin – the college, the young brigade as well as the company side. Whether or not the candidate can speak English is immaterial, as is any other point not mentioned as a core skill. Not all jobs require you to be technically savvy, or speak English at all {let alone fluently}

The focus on hiring managers in survey after survey is fallacious; this requires a deeper research to get a handle on this entire matter, which is far too complex to rely on one set of individuals alone. Few hiring managers are skilled in psychology, and yet “bad attitude”, and “personality mismatch” feature as rejection reasons. How can a person who has zero knowledge of psychology pass judgement on these parameters? Far more critical, how can any decision on future direction be taken on the pronouncements of these people?


TRAINING SCENARIO

How much emphasis is placed on training? How much emphasis is placed on skilling the candidate in specific KRA-designed training programmes by companies? Nil. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Nothing. Cipher. Induction programmes are unimaginative affairs, listing things a simple google search will reveal. You require an induction for that? What for?

How many hours are devoted to periodic training that is KRA specific by companies? Again, very near zero. Training is looked upon as a waste of time by line managers. A training programme nomination is looked upon as a warning, as is treated as a first step to sacking by more than a majority of line managers. Periodic training to refresh skill sets is absent across functions. Simple fact.

How can you blame candidates or universities in such a scenario? The companies are not willing to invest in their own people, whom they call “assets”, and want to earn profits from their performance? Furthermore, no company is wanting to engage with universities and colleges outside the top 10-15, and communicate with and work with these colleges. Arent the companies a part of our society, our culture? Shouldnt they do it – if not for nationalist feeling, then out of a pure play profit motive?

I am not absolving the colleges of the blame – just making a simple point that this is far too complex a matter. 


THE WAY FORWARD – THE CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE  

Let me clarify. I once had occasion, during my tenure as a visiting faculty, to check what my students are using as study material. The non-regular students were using translations into the vernacular; these students were further not in the A-Graders, or even B-Graders. Now companies immediately scream at this juncture : English Problem! No Skills! Prima Facie, this seems logical, and spot-on. Except, on deeper analysis, this is exposed as a fallacious impression. 

First, is the knowledge of English mission critical? In most roles, it isnt. Fact. Then why reject because of this? Next, how do you expect a student from the heartland and hinterland, schooled in poor schools or local languages to upgrade to flowing top-level English in the space of a heartbeat? Impossible – it cant be done! Does this mean that this person has no talent whatsoever? 

The next point follows from this – if the person cannot even understand English, how can anyone expect him to be functionally an expert, or at a par with those who can, given that most top-level books are in English? At this point, companies reject, scream “Skill Gap” and wash their hands off the entire matter. Seems logical – except that it is anything but, as deeper thought reveals.

As Corporate India moves into the smaller towns / smaller colleges in big towns for its hiring, this is going to be a persistent problem. This is not really a problem – it is a signal that Corporate India is not in sync with the ground realities, and needs to modify its processes and procedures, and undergo serious introspection. 

The reality is that only the creamy layer is exposed to good schooling; this is an external reality. Hindi / Marathi / Bengali / Tamil / Telugu etc are the medium of instruction. Corporate India has yet to realise this reality, let alone accept it. Books and quality material, access to resources are absent in this layer. Schools and parents alike cant afford it. This is a hard reality. 

Does this mean that this entire set of people, or a large majority among them, is not worth hiring? Has anyone given them a chance, by proper timely training interventions before deployment on the job / regular interaction with college managements and faculties and such like? No! Then how can you assume that they cant perform, when you are using standards of judgement that they just cannot meet, and are therefore manifestly unfair? 

This isnt socialism – I am talking pure capitalism and perfect business sense. You have a vacancy; you have candidates who have passed an exam pertaining to that required skill set; and you dont hire! You choose – note that – actually choose – to leave the vacancy open in a hyper-competitive market! Amazing! 

Not one corporate in my experience has tried to retrain these people. And, sadly and shockingly, in corporate India itself there are people who have overcome these handicaps, reskilled themselves, and succeeded – thereby proving that this is a gap that can be bridged. And if it can be bridged, it ceases to be a gap, and becomes a ground-level challenge that needs attending to. 

Trust me – there are students who are raring to go, given a chance at reskilling. It is in corporate interest to give them that chance. Either that – or cry skill gap, leave positions vacant and impact your business competence. Corporates are running away from the problem, not trying to solve it. 

They are a part of this nation; they are a part of this society. That they should get in, dirty their hands and get it done is beyond debate. The pay-off? Talent. And there is plenty of latent talent – try interacting with these students. I did. And was stunned, humbled and shameful. 

Remember : Focus on what you can change, the circle of influence. The socio-economic factors, the schooling issues are way too complex and are in the circle of concern. Changing that will require decades- and you want business performance in the near term. 

My point is that this is not so simple, and has many, many facets and roots – Socio-Cultural, Economic, Political, Business etc. This does not lend itself to simple and-or situations. In the meantime, we in Corporate India need people. 

Any youngster will have dreams and aspirations, that is natural. It is the absence of dreams that is a problem, not how tall they are. Similarly, not all can communicate their feelings and thoughts. That is again a human trait. Does this mean that all those who cant communicate are worthless, and have no talent? Obviously no. What is needed in counselling – which is not done, or proper guidance as to what suits which person. This is the most significant gap in educational systems. 

What can WE do should be the question? That is our circle of influence. Remember – we require people as much as they require jobs. Our need is in some ways greater than theirs. We can either sit and cry as to the failures of the system – or roll up our sleeves, plan and execute strategies that will bridge the gap. The latter course is a sure guarantee of success. The former isnt. 

What we can do is step in, fill the perceived gaps in chosen institutes that have the potential of meeting our needs, and work with these institutes round-the-year, through monthly seminars with students, one-on-one counselling sessions,and other such activities. This will cost next to nothing, and give us a strong understanding of the prospective candidates to boot. In the pressure for immediate results, we forget to nurture new talent; we set the bar too high due to our internal deliverables which are demanding, so say the least. The need of the hour is a long-term approach. To be specific, choose and target specific colleges in smaller towns and cities – Indore, Bhopal, Varanasi, Surat, Nasik, Akola, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Bhuj, Agra etc. Work with these places – you will get talent, and at a lower cost. Win-win situation 

This will also go a long way in reducing employee turnover, reduce stress, build engagement. Survey after survey is showing rise of dissatisfaction, unbearable stress, physical diseases, mental diseases in Corporate India. 


In my experience, students do respond to counselling, and proper guidance. Problem is, they dont have anyone to approach for help and guidance. We can play that role. The pay-off? Talent. Assured talent, and tie-ups with institutes that will last years, as also fulfilling your CSR mandates in a sure way.

Should We Judge Attitude While Hiring?

Published June 5, 2014 by vishalvkale

Attitude is increasingly heard to be one of the points to be measured, or appraised or judged while assessing the utility or skills or potential of a person. A number of hiring managers as well as line managers swear by this dictum. A person with a positive attitude is a tremendous asset, and can be far more effective that one with a bad attitude. The statement above is spot-on accurate, and is a manifest truth. A person with a positive attitude is also more receptive to ideas, can think of solutions to problems with a much greater degree of alacrity, that is also a fact. Should we then measure or judge the attitude of an employee or candidate? Or there are pitfalls in doing so?

My experience has taught me otherwise… attitude is easy to fake, and easier to destroy for a boss. Fact. First of all, attitude is not a fixed and defined item that is carved in stone. Attitude changes as a response to situations, and a negative attitude is no certain judgement of ability to perform; it has to be seen in the light of the persons’ circumstance. Quite often, a change of circumstance can lead to a sea change in attitude. Of course, outliers will be there : cases with extreme negative attitude, for example. But these are exceptions, and are relatively easy to spot in most cases.

All too often, “negative attitude” has been used as a one-size-fits-all solution for people in your team you do not get along with. It is ridiculously easy to manufacture a bad attitude through targeted tactics; for example, withholding approvals on some borderline aspect {which can be achieved by provision of additional data, or building a case. In place of such advice, the boss just rejects the approval – either deliberately, or due to a blind spot as he anyways does not like the guy}. This, done enough times, along with other “harmless” practices – like excessive follow-up with an employee who hates being distracted, for example – will manufacture a bad attitude where none existed. 

This in no way implies that a bad attitude is permanent; that it cannot be changed. Attitudes can and do change as per the circumstance the individual is going under, the stresses he or she is operating under both at work as well as at home. Far more pertinent is the observation that why focus on other aspects in a competitive world, when attitude measurement, when taken in conjunction with a basic cut-off of skills and experience is a good judge of a prospective great employee? When you have 3 people applying for each job, it is easy to focus on attitude after initial screening for basic eligibility criteria. Or when picking the ones to keep in a team, and laying off people – why not just let the bad attitude person go?

First, the prospective great employee. That creature doesn’t exist, for starters, Each new hire has to be inculcated and developed into the system such that his potential is realised. Second, attitude is no guarantee that the skill-set needed for the task completion is adequate; positive attitude or not, you will still need skills to achieve your KRAs. Third, by judging attitude, in my humble opinion, the manager is creating a blind spot; in place of judging attitude, the manager’s core task is to select people who can perform the task at hand. The task is more vital than anything else. It is far more pertinent for the manager to create a shortlist based on skill-sets, ability and intelligence, and use attitude only in the case of a tie-breaker, as it were: to finally select in case you get 2 or more with similar or comparable skills.
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If there is a superior,or a suited person whose bad attitude can be logically explained, its makes sense to go in for that person. It is a risk worth taking; trusting the ability of the human being to evolve and adjust to a positive situation is not such a bad idea. As a matter of fact, a down-on-his-luck person, as an example, might actually put in a much greater effort in his or her job if given the chance, as he or she is feeling gratitude at being given a chance, and hope that in this new supportive atmosphere, performance will be rewarded. As I said, the risk might just be worth it.

Next, retention of team members. This is a minefield even in the best of times, and possibly the worst thing you can do is look at attitude over and above everything else. Bad attitude or good, each employee has  a reservoir of knowledge and skill-sets, and is performing a function. As we saw in the examples above, it is easy for a bad boss to create attitude issues in employees. Further, genuine problems and hindrances can also be confused for bad attitude. For example, a Sales Manager complaining of pricing problems is often taken as a person with a bad attitude. In reality, it is within the bounds of possibility that a competing brand has actually launched a test marketing initiative or a local promotion that is undercutting your brand, leading to his feedback. Why brand the guy as a loser, when he is merely stating the absolute truth? 
Why does that guy have a bad attitude? And is it possible to turn that attitude around? If so, we get an asset! Most importantly, if the bad attitude is due to internal politics or vicious targeting, you as a leader will be actually re-inforcing the bad but carefully camouflaged behaviour of the perpetrator, keeping the door open for serious problems in future! That is why, when trying to judge attitude, it is vital to go into the background of the person – why does he or she have a bad attitude? Can it be turned? Under what level of stress is he or she operating? Is there is a personal problem that person is facing? Is it an issue with someone in the team? Asking the right questions can actually lead to unearthing some serious issues, or other pertinent learnings that can be of mutual benefit, as well as ensure that further more serious issues dont arise!

This is why measuring for attitude is always a bad idea – all the time, every time. You have to look at it in totality : the employee’s personality, his circumstances, his achievements, and achievements under what situation, what was the precise individual contribution {all too often, the credit is taken by the wrong person}. There is no shortcut; the supervisor has to know the employee inside out. I have personally seen careers destroyed because some boss screams “that guy has a bad attitude”, without asking one critical question : Why does that person have a bad attitude?