job satisfaction

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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!

Corporate India : Understanding The Ethical Dilemma

Published December 16, 2014 by vishalvkale

This is the second part of the article of Is This Business? Professionalism? Planning? Management?


We looked at some real-world examples of the result of unethical behaviour in the Corporate World in the previous post linked above; these can be easily added to by the simple means of a google search; any number of real cases will appear for ready consideration. As I asked in the conclusion of the previous article, why does this happen? 


There is no simple answer to this; I personally refer to this as the Ethical Dilemma that each new employee is faced with. At this juncture, let us all move away from the oft-repeated excuse that we are a corrupt society, and this is the way things happen. That is not the issue here; the focus here should be to understand the underlying factors that result in on-the-job unethical behaviour, and how are they rooted in core corporate concepts, processes and methods. 


It is only through such an exercise that we can evolve new processes that can alleviate the problem. The objective is not Gandhian or some abstract social change paradigm; I am a hard-core, hard-wired corporate professional, and my objective here is only to assist in creating a more smoothly functional organisation that can deliver better bang for the buck while remaining within legal and moral parameters; in fact – harness ethics and ethical behaviour as an asset, rather than as a liability that most people currently believe it to be. It can be done; that is certain. All it requires is a process-centered approach and an iron-will…


UNDERSTANDING THE WORD ETHICS IN THE BUSINESS WORLD

In this article, I shall focus on the ethical dilemma; we shall subsequently look at some processes in the 3rd part of this mini-series. Before we move into corporates, let us establish the bedrock : our society. Whether we like it or not, the current trend is that morality and straightforwardness is not an asset in the modern world, with corruption being almost endemic, and there being an almost ubiquitous belief in “duniyadaari” or being worldly wise. And most discussions on ethics are brushed aside by saying you need to be worldly wise. Keep this in mind; this is a vital attitude that we will return to later in the 3rd part, as it betrays a lamentable lack of understanding of  a few basic concepts. 


To be frank; such an attitude is neither here nor there, and is in reality totally irrelevant. There are only two terms that are relevant to us : being ethical, and being naive. If you open all your cards in a business negotiation, you are not being ethical; you are being naive, and foolish. This has nothing to do with ethics! As another example, if your channel partner is not giving adequate focus to your business, then the question of how to proceed is not one of ethics, it is a straight and simple business question, and has nothing to do with ethics. 


We need to be specific : what do we mean by the term ethics? By that, let us be clear  that we are referring to illegal behaviour, actions and steps that are against standard societal norms, and such actions that will eventually lead to loss to the organisation in the long term due to their being focused on individual gain. Let us qualify this last point with one caveat : unless short term steps are deemed to be necessary for short-term organisational survival, and documented as such by the concerned management.



THE ETHICAL DILEMMA

Let us start with an example; you are in a negotiation with a prospective business partner. In the course of negotiations, you hold back certain information; as I stated before, that is a standard and indeed essential practice. But this needs to be clarified : all information that is pertinent to the decision of the business partner as well as is vital for a long term association needs t0 be revealed; holding that back is unethical. Such is the fine line between ethical and unethical behaviour in a business situation. 


Furthermore, there is also a very high degree of probability that the above may be against the law, which mandates release of all pertinent information in a business contract. Be that as it may, the decision as to what is pertinent is a very situational parameter, and requires experience. Look at it this way : if the Channel Partner is looking for a long-term association with a solid or upcoming brand with a clear way forward, whereas you are in it only to solve a short-term crisis without having any long-term intentions, there is a potential fundamental disconnect. If your brand then does not have a clear way forward in terms of new products, marketing activities and their range & scope, and you nevertheless imply or commit that you do, then you are in unethical territory. 


So long as you give complete disclosure, that you need a business partner urgently, can provide a solid business case to the potential partner, and can meet objections, you are fine. All you have to do is identify the core non-negotiable points of the other party, and what points can be negotiated on, and build your case on them. But the moment you cut corners, and start lying, you are on suspect ground. This leads to a disconnect between the partner and the organisation upon the start of business when the partner learns that there is no clear way forward – leading to him or her withdrawing from the business. 

This is just one example of the ethical dilemma, wherein professional falter  : my KRAs versus Solid Business Logic. The inability to connect the two is the ethical dilemma; the word dilemma means specifically “a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially ones that are equally undesirable“. Here the choice is the unpalatable choice of breaking norms and lying to achieve the goal, versus the equally unpalatable choice of having to struggle hard while keeping on the right side of ethics. 



UNDERSTANDING THE ETHICAL DILEMMA


Why should the employee be faced with such a hobson’s choice : KRAs, or Ethics? The next question then comes automatically : Are the two really mutually exclusive under current circumstances? Or is the entire feeling of a totally different origin? Or is it that both the KRAs as well as the other factors need consideration and reworking? And what are these other factors? 

One thing needs to be clear at the outset : the question of ethics is fundamentally an individual decision, an individual choice. And yet, we see the improbable sight of a large number of people sacrificing ethics at the altar of the rat race, the race to succeed, to survive, and to get ahead. This is the single largest indicator that there is something, some fundamental weakness or oversight within the core processes of the companies that either catalyzes or fails to check unethical behaviour. No company states unethical behaviour as acceptable; 100% frown upon it, and yet large swathes of companies are struggling to bring unethical conduct under control, which is a strange paradox. 

Optimally, the ethical dilemma should not occur to employees in the first place; ethics should support and in fact strengthen the business process. That they dont is a manifest reality, as indicated in the examples I mentioned in the first article linked above. Granted that in the real world, there will always be difficult choices and borderline cases; but that does not take away from this core reality. 

Since the choice is one of individual behaviour, and is made with an objective to achieve some business goals, KRAs automatically become a part of the discussion. So does the entire system that the employee is exposed to; why is the employee having to make such decisions on a regular basis? KRAs, Relations with superiors, Support systems, Checks and Balances, external environment all come into the gamut of discussion. For the ethical dilemma may be that of an individual, but it is of an individual who is a part of a larger system, which shapes as well as influences the thinking and decision making of the individual. 

The key point, the way forward is to understand the functioning at an organisational level, and plot the pulls pressures and developments in both the organisation and the external atmosphere it operates in. The reason is simple : we are in business for profit, not an NGO for social development. We need to plot a way forward that is largely ethical, that rewards ethical conduct, and that does not instill a feeling of threat while being ethical; all the while operating in the external atmosphere as it exists in the modern day – and we certainly arent living in a Utopia. 

This is the subject of the 3rd part of this series… 

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?


Tackling Employee Dissatisfaction

Published December 9, 2013 by vishalvkale

The trend in Employee – Organisation relationships, as brought out in a few recent surveys, shows a majority of the employees are not engaged with the organisation; that the dissatisfaction levels are very high. Alongside this fact is the lament – or statement from organisations that they are making the organisation more employee friendly. And yet, there is no discernible impact on dissatisfaction levels in general – which are, if anything – rising. 

Reason for that is not one single attempt has dealt with the core issue/s at hand – why are the employees dissatisfied? Why are they disengaged? In my experience no one has even tried to attempt this. As a result, the efforts at engagement are centering around employee activities, rewards and recognition, feel-good programmes, dress-up and dress-down days, cafeteria enhancements, remuneration and emoluments, Saturday half-days which are applicable only to the HO, Gift programmes, intranet links and mailers, parties etc. Not one of these has worked; in fact – the exact reverse. All have boomeranged, and boomeranged big-time.

The reality is that these programmes have either no discernible impact, or indeed serve only to embitter the employee. For example, Saturday offs / Half-Days. These are usually enjoyed only by HO staff; more often than not the branches remain open. At times, even on Sundays – due to the proverbial “driven” boss, who has nothing better to do with his time – and walks in. Result? Your employee-friendly policy goes out the window, and actually causes deep resentment as you realise that the HO staff – or your classmate in Mysore – is relaxing at home! 

Another example: gift programmes, emoluments, Rewards and Recognition. The shoddy implementation of these, in place of acting as motivators, act as severe de motivators due to 2 strong reasons – first, lack of transparency in the process combined with a top-down approach which leaves simmering discontent among the staff, who are not convinced regarding the winners or the people getting appreciation. The general contention is that the favourite got it; its not for us. Secondly, the cut-offs or targets set for appreciation or Gifts is either not communicated properly – or is ridiculously high. The belief is that an unachievable target will drive the employees. The result? More pressure, as the boss makes it a prestige issue. The supposed Reward gets converted into an added target, and more reason for pressure. Result? Good-bye motivation, Good-bye engagement – and Hi There, Dissatisfaction! 

A third example – those lovely cafeterias, game rooms and other facilitators.  An excellent idea, one would think – except the moment the boss walks in – you walk out, or be tagged a loiterer! If that does not happen – in walks the boss, Milk Shake in hand, sees you… Bang! Meeting Chalu! Lets start the meeting. You have no option but to respond. Midway, one of you gets an idea. Out comes the Cellphone, in comes the entire team – and lo and behold, Good-bye game room / cafetaria and Welcome New Meeting Room! Next time, I Me Myself and others at my level make it a point to walk all the way to the cutting chaiwaalaa – individually, mind you (at the most in pairs) – have a cup of tea, spend 15 minutes cursing everyone and his uncle – and back to work! 

There is no systemic check on such blatant abuse of power, and total lack of personal space to the employee. What is worse, most of us do not see it as an encroachment of personal space. Furthermore, none of the relationship improvement efforts attempt to solve the real problems plaguing the corporate world, where what one actually does is in complete variance with our value systems, as well as frequently openly against the law. The lack of Job Security is a further dampener. The total absence of leaves (even if pushed, insecurity forces employees not to take leaves) is an added burden. This is complicated by a lack of security once outside the job. Not only that, a total lack of career planning for employees & no training for skill upgradation is another factor. And, as the icing on the cake, you have the other factors – lack of personal space, too much pressure, constant monitoring etc. The real problems are:

  • The penchant to take unhealthy or even illegal shortcuts; 
  • Pressure to conform rather than be an individual;
  • Pressure tactics; 
  • Hire-and-fire policies; 
  • Lack of proper training and career clarity 
  • Long work hours; 
  • General Lack of transparency unfair PMS
  • Lack of personal time and 
  • Downright unhealthy work atmoshpere cutting across levels and functions.


If you want the employee to be engaged – stop all the frankly ridiculous attempts at engagement – and:

  1. Start enriching his/her job; 
  2. Give him/her security; 
  3. Enable strong checks and balances against misuse of power;
  4. Intolerance towards unhealthy business practices and illegal acts – even at the cost of marketshare 
  5. Shorten work hours; 
  6. Invest in training
  7. Give personal space; \
  8. Empower employees and 
  9. Free from ridiculous levels of control. Thats it.


Nothing else is required. One straight, frank and blunt feedback – whenever such programmes, or measures are announced, I have heard snide remarks as well as foul language. Real foul language. It is a common statement – why should we do anything for the company, when it does nothing for us? Whats in it for me? I’ll stay here for 1-2 years and move on! How can anyone be engaged in such an atmosphere? Impossible!

From personal experience in leading teams – nearly 70-80% of employees respond positively to kind and understanding handling, personal space and independence, time for personal activities, and total intolerance of unhealthy / illegal acts. But once you go down that road, you as the Boss pay for it. Blunt : I have received instructions to commit clear transgressions of law or company rules from Seniors more than once, and oblique hints as a general rule. Further, there is a general statement – if you can do this much with so little pressure, yaar “unki G@#$$ maaro business 20% growth hogaa. You are killing performance! This when the person is already touching 90-100% on targets! That is the reality of Corporate India. 

Things are beginning to change – since, for the first time, people are openly coming out in private conversations, HR confidential emails, blogs, newspapers etc. There is a general dialogue that has started; this bodes well. What is more, those speaking up span the entire spectrum from the juniormost to the seniormost, which is a healthy sign, a harbinger of change – positive change. One might even say that it is only to be expected that some things will go bad in times of rapid growth (such as India saw over the past few years till 2009). Having said that, now is the time to set things right again… here’s hoping that happens…

The Great Indian Skill Gap… A Reality Check

Published November 27, 2013 by vishalvkale

I am a corporate guy, with experience in teaching MBA classes as well . And I categorically state: there is no skill gap. The only gap is in our approach, at least in the general sense of the term. What is the difference between the 2 statements – Skill Gap and Approach? When you say Gap, the onus is on the student; when you say approach – YOU are the culprit. This is not splitting hairs, this is the core issue.

You say students are not corporate-ready. Fine, Enumerate steps taken by your organisation to tackle this. And please dont list A-lister colleges. Till date, I have not seen a single corporate aligning with universities, If you cant get in, dirty your hands and solve it, stop crying and face the music! Do you seriously expect a greenhorn to come raring out and write perfect code? Do you seriously expect a greenhorn to come out raring and bribe a government babu with impunity? And dont tell me corporates dont bribe, please! Do you seriously expect a new guy fresh out of college to climb on top of distributors who have handled hundreds of such college geniuses? Do you seriously expect a fresh college grad to put in 18-hour workdays? And again, dont tell me we have an 8 hour day!

Further, till date not one single person in my knowledge has specified exactly what a skill gap means in specific deliverable terms. No general statements, please, Identify specific gaps. Cant code? Cant adjust? Cant take pressure? But before you think of this, think of how do you treat your summer trainees? Is there any genuine effort to train them? I have been through it, so I know exactly how much we – aah- train them. Dont make me laugh. How on earth you expect a fresh guy to deliver as much as an experienced guy is beyond me.

The Army spends 2 years training its people – as well as regularly every 2 years. Dad had to attend regular several-month-long trainings, as well as got a 2-year break for further studies.  How much do we invest in training? I have been through – aah – induction programmes, which generally tell me all about the organisation – which a simple google search will reveal – and precisely nothing about how to deliver on my KRAs!!!!! And then we cry – Skill Gap! Wow!

Saying “Skill Gap” and ‘Soft Skill” is fine; be specific – identify specific areas, attributes, habits, mannerisms that are, shall we say, desirable. In my reading, no one has, till date. It is a fashionable trend, saying we have a skill gap. And if I am wrong, please give me specifics, not generalities. We sales guys have a habit of dealing in specifics! 

It may sound funny to many people – but, again, my point made above is straightforward: try and identify s-p-e-c-i-f-i-c areas of gaps; and see the problems that emerge as you try to define it. And pray tell me how can a problem be solved if it is not even defined? I have certainly not read any article in main stream business news regarding anything beyond the generic term “skill gap”

For example, you say students cant talk properly? Fine. Why cant they talk? It is all very well to state they cant talk; ever thought about the why? Ever taken the trouble to ask them or their families? Ever thought about how they got here in the first place? And what do you mean they cant talk? They talk well enough in their own circles. So why cant they do so in front of you? What is it in your approach – or his history – that presents a block? Try and go into specifics – then you will see the real problem emerge- which is not repeat not a skill gap. It is something else entirely!

A gap is not in the ether somewhere; also try and relate it to the real world, where education is costly. Also keep in mind the population distribution of the nation; the top 200 cities do not account for more than 5.68% (from memory) of total population. The age group of 18-35 of the top 50 cities is something like 2.57% if memory serves me right. Or is it the general contention that India exists only in the metros????? Try and scale it up on a state-wide scale; let alone a national scale. And keep in mind earning skewness in India, consumption trends and spreads; average cost of a decent college education; as well as attend to why dont all students reach college?

The problem is two-fold; first, corporates prefer people to fit in to a certain stereotype; and woe betide anyone who challenges this. Anyone who does not fit in is left out – regardless of other skills sets he/she may be having. There is little focus on the person, there is no focus on giving something to the employee in terms of training and life skills, there is little focus on attempting to make the employee fit in, there is little focus on re-training line and staff managers to cope with the new challenges being posed – as corporate India enters the smaller towns and villages for its manpower. There is little thought being given to this – that simple fact that the modern serving corporate manager does not have the skill sets to deal with this new set of people, who have different values, attitudes and experiences in life from your top – 50 city metrosexual individual.

Second, Yes, there are gaps – but these are primarily socio-economic gaps, gaps of infrastructure, gaps of earning potential of parents, gaps of service delivery in schools, gaps of high fees that are unaffordable, gaps of social status,gaps of inferiority complexes that are rooted in our caste structure etc. You cannot simplify such a massive socio-economic problem as a skill-gap, and set up short-term institutes to bridge it!

These are students who could not get a top-line education in mainstream schools due to personal problems. Therefore, crying about their technical incompetence, or other issues is a pointless exercise. The real problems lie in the massive infrastructural bottlenecks that are facing India – lack of good teachers, lack of good pay for teaching staff, lack of good books in the Vernacular, lack of money for education in better facilities etc. Does this mean that they are to be left out always? Further, does this also mean that all of these are unemployable? They have passed the college exams, and are equipped with the basics. Despite this, the general claim is that 90% of such people are unemployable at any role?

That is why I say get into the specifics – it is only then that you will realise that what you are asking for is first of all impossible in the current set of circumstances, and second, that somewhere along the line you yourself are responsible. It will also lay bare prejudices and misapprehensions – which do exist in any corporate. It will also force you to identify key mission critical areas – because now you can be pinned down to your statements and held responsible – since now you are giving a pinpointed, factual answer supported by facts. And on that, you can be challenged! This will also serve to identify specific shortcomings in students, which can be communicated to colleges.

 It does not require much time to give proper feedback or engage with colleges – but no one does it. This is limited to the IITs and IIMs. Why cant it be taken to other colleges from where campus hiring takes place – and for all domains like Telecom, FMCG etc – as well as for all functions – Sales, Finance etc; AND for all levels – Sales Trainee, Management Trainee, Sales Officer Trainee, Trainees in other domains etc? The current focus is only on IITs, IIMs and other top tier places. There are others towns and cities, and other colleges – which go largely ignored; the manpower from them is not considered worthy of such mundane activities as feedback ad industry-college linkage!.

These problems are not going to go away for decades at least; in the meantime corporates will require manpower. So look internally; identify and re-train your own manpower to deal with these people. Create internal systems that can tackle the shortcomings/ As it is, we dont spend a dime on serious training, Simple fact, whether or not anyone likes it. As I read on Quora once – you can either train and run the risk of ,manpower leaving, which will give you at least some managers who are more capable – or dont train, and run the risk of unskilled managers staying with you.

You wont get the same skill levels everywhere; and the modern manager is simply not emotionally mature enough to handle people from such – aah – “skill gaps”! Because of this, there is a tendency to judge everyone in the same mould, rather than trying to judge the ability to perform after sufficient hand-holding and training. But, for that, you require time, patience, tolerance for other world-views, ability to converse in local tongues, robust internal systems to check abuse and targeting etc. This requires real management – which is diametrically opposite to what most managers do – which is just scream at subordinates, without adding any real value,. Start asking your own people to add some real value – and see this perceived skill gap lessen!

This will also generate a massive goodwill for organizations that do these activities; further, this will strengthen the Industry – College linkages, as well as create a pool of trained manpower. Not only that our nation will also greatly benefit by such an effort.  You can also look at it as a corporate social responsibility initiative – and this one initiative that  will give long term tangible and certain benefits. All it requires is a change in approach; this does not require much expense. The benefits more than compensate the effort required – and this is eminently doable as well. But it does require a very different approach, as well as a different mindset…

Just Sack The Employee… And Move On – The Right Strategy?

Published July 21, 2013 by vishalvkale

We looked at the numbers game, and the no-emotions approaches; let me start with an example that will. highlight why emotions can and do make perfect business sense, especially when combined with a long-term approach… My normal approach when taking tough calls is to be humane, and give the other person both sufficient time as well as a chance to put his views forward. Additionally, I try everything within my power to retain – retrain, transfer etc. I have always been advised by peers to avoid being gentle, and just kick them out. I never understood why – until this case happened. It was an eye-opener for me.
This incident happened a few years ago when I was heading a large team; on joining, I first took charge by looking at the historical sales performances of the entire team. This was critical, since I was told to cut the laggards. An interesting case came to my attention; I was perusing historical sales data for the team, when I asked for longer term data beyond just the past quarter- as nearly the entire team was of long vintage. I noted a very interesting case of a top performer who had gone down for the past year or so. This person’s Area Manager was insistent: he had to go, he was an underperformer with a bad attitude to boot. The bad attitude bit was spot-on; I know that myself. Additionally, the ASM was a top-notch guy, and not just in numbers… he was an excellent resource.
As is my habit, I asked him (The Attitude guy) to tell me about his performance, and analyse himself. His response left me speechless: “you tell me; why has my performance gone down? What has changed in the interim that made a top guy like me go down?”. Instead of losing my cool, I asked him to elaborate. On this, he went into the history of the previous incumbent of my chair; about his screaming profanities, about the terror he was held in; about his relentless and reckless follow-ups; about his non-stop pressure. This was true; I had heard it from the back-end staff many times. This guy told me bluntly – I dont take that from anybody. Even if I performed well, and just turned in one bad day, he would be off: what about my daily target etc? That placed me under tremendous pressure.
I knew this guy was speaking the truth; I also saw where this was heading, as well as why no one takes my route: it raises uncomfortable truths, and realities no one wants to confront. People would rather let the junior guy get sacked than confront the shortcomings of a top person, or of the system. This is the reason why exit interviews are either waived or taken in written; why no deep penetrating questions are never raised, why longer term issues are difficult to confront and so on and so forth. But in this case, I could only see how a top resource was destroyed, his career wrecked by a so-called driven person. I could only see the long term repercussions such an approach entailed…
The moment you leave out emotions and the rest; the moment you let yourself into the numbers trap – you are on a one-way  spiral. While this may benefit you personally, the organisation loses out in the end, always and everytime. Look at the case above; and note how a resource has been lost, permanently. Note how a life has been destroyed; note how an attitude has become negative. Note how a human being is on the verge of becoming marked as a person with a bad attitude…
If the employee feels that the boss is not one who will entertain logic, then, to save one’s job, or to ensure benefits continue, or to ensnare that elusive promotion, people start taking shortcuts; harmful shortcuts like lying to customers; over- or under-committing to close a sale; pushing goods through the trade; raising inventory to unsustainable levels; giving false commitments to partners; screaming at or sacking employees who resist your unhealthy methods and so on and so forth. This goes beyond the sales function – I have seen it in operation in Customer Care and other functions as well. Pressure begets only trouble; pressure works only in crises. I am not aware of any other situation where pressure is a positive asset.
Each person has a comfort zone in terms of work output; the key is to enable each person to reach that comfort zone. This is different from the old maxim – myth – that each person works best under differing levels of pressure. No one in my experience has ever performed his best under pressure. People perform well when they are in a positive mood, engaged with the job, the company and the task at hand – as well as with the team. If some people perform under pressure, it is because they adjust. An adult is aware of the consequences of his actions; putting pressure is pointless as well as a waste of precious resources. The key is to enable each person to reach his level of competence from within: pressure does that from outside. If a person is performing under pressure; rest assured that he will improve dramatically in his individual comfort zone. The key for the supervisor is to guage where that zone lies; in a simple phrase – Job Satisfaction
It is far easier to simply put pressure, get the job done, cut “laggards” and move on to the next posting either within the same organisation – or elsewhere. Let the next guy handle the fallout! In all this, the cost in terms of organisational resources lost, or lives wrecked, is never thought of. And it is this ultra-competitive emotionless approach that lies at the heart of most problems highlighted in the first article; the pressure to prove yourself, the fear of a loss (be it job or promotion loss), the difficulty and uncertainty being jobless entails – these combine with a lack of social security at least in India, and the overall hypercompetitive atmosphere – and create the shortcuts to disaster like we have seen earlier.
The question is whether it is possible to achieve success by being – shall we say – straighter, more humane, more process-focused? Unequivocally, yes. If that was the case, a good many of the scandals and scams would not have occurred. Furthermore, a more open atmosphere will ensure a 2-way and fearless feedback channel in operation, as competitor moves and market changes get communicated faster.  Not only that, implementation will be easier as well.
You cant avoid screaming or putting pressure 100% of the time; that is not the point of the article. The point is that instead of pressure being a way of corporate life, it should  be reserved only for real emergencies. Before anyone laughs, whether or not you realise it: pressure is there. It can be seen in rising lifestyle diseases; it can be seen in rising psychological cases, it can be seen in rising rate of job-switching; it can be seen in the rising rate of scams and scandals shaking corporate India; it can be seen in the later and later work-hours in prevalence; it can be seen in the lesser frequency of holidays and leaves; it can be seen in the rising divorce rates… it is ubiquitous, and ever-present. And remember: pressure distorts perspective.
Just a tinge of empathy taken with a few tonnes of process orientation is all that is required; employees will still have to be pulled up; they will still have to be sacked; they will still have to be held accountable and so on and so forth. But you can make it process-bound rather than person-centric. This will not lessen the control of the boss; it is not needed for the boss to be a despot. All that is required is that employees understand that they are allowed to make mistakes; that their mistakes will not be held against them; that they have passed the selection process – and are in here for a long term. All that is required is that the employee understands that if he does something horribly wrong, or performs badly due to mistakes of his own, repeatedly made  –  arising out of tasks under his direct influence – he can lose this valued position. In place of this, we hire for the short-term; for the immediate task… with the boss being the be-all and end-all. The boss, then, in place of being a person with superior performance as well as greater knowledge, becomes a thing to be feared; not an advisor to approach in a tight situation; not a controller who will direct you in the right direction when you are going wrong…
And thus we let the organisation and the victimised employees  feel the brunt of the loss; the former over the long term,and the latter over the short term!We are after all, humans – and will  respond positively to positive stimuli. Why should the corporate be any different? In my experience, 70-80% of of my reportees have responded positively; which is a good number to start with. To my mind, a perfect case for a more human and process-centric approach.

And in the hands of someone more skilled and mature than I am, well, that number might even be 90%. And the benefits commensurate with the percentage…