Tuesday, 9 October 2018


With all the acronyms in corporate jargon, a few are getting created (and stuck!) in my head. Here’s one to start with – LEADER. A purely fun, tongue-in-cheek take on different kinds of leadership, with maybe a few grains of truth lodged somewhere! By no means all-encompassing descriptions, there may be types that straddle a couple or nestle between two types or have many shades to a predominant one.

Enjoy…. And believe at your own expense! And by the way, the term ‘he’ is used as a general one; the attributes apply equally to all genders.

L for the Laggard: This type is pretty common. You see, having got to a certain position and having got a few people to ‘lead’, it’s easy to sit back and have others do all the work. This may be fine if he’s not required to roll up his sleeves and actually work (!) but gets a bit much if he is not stirred even to giving direction or support or even approve those small bills.

E for the Enthusiast: This could equally be the Eager Beaver or the Ever Excited leader. But, this type is pretty nice to have. He is engaged, curious, wants to do more and wants his people to do more. Problems only arise when his enthusiasm gets so strong that he’s the only whirlwind around the office and the team is left panting and breathless trying to catch up!

A for the Ambitious Aviator: This one is flying high, or wanting to fly high. No problem with that, and can be great if he carries his team with him. But, often this type has scant regard for the people who are fueling his rise up the ladder. They may slaving late in office to create the perfect report, but Mr. Ambitious Aviator will be lapping up the credit and preening without so much as a ‘thank you’. This type will also very often lobby for his advancement, but forget to do the same for his people.

D for the Dreamer: He is the one who has all the brilliant ideas, the vision for a project, the big plan… but has no clue on how to make it happen! He will articulate a dream, paint a picture, but leave it at that… and leave it to others to actually make it happen. When this trait is coupled with a paralysis of action or decision, it can become not just frustrating, but very daunting, for his people who have to piece a complex jigsaw into place.

E for the Excellence-focused:  Great to be; the stuff that leadership is about. He can be inspiring, constructively critical and lead his team to resounding success. Pitfalls in this type could be obsessive and unnecessary attention to detail (read, nitpicking) and being a control freak. These are two areas that dent this aura. If people feel inspired and empowered by him, it’s a wonderful leadership shadow to cast.

R for the Relationship builder:  This one comes from the ‘softer’ school of leadership. He is all about holding your hand as you cry on leaving your toddler at preschool or visiting the hospital to see your mom. He will do all this for you and for his boss. So, that means great bonhomie all around. Very often, he may rely on the relationship goodwill to carry work through. Nothing wrong with all this, but the crunch comes when he shies away from taking a tough stand or making hard decisions just because he would like to please (and appease) everybody. This often results in very wishy-washy leadership.

Love to hear about the ‘types’ you have encountered!

The fine line between satisfaction and engagement

Not too long back we measured 'employee satisfaction' at work. These surveys were designed to assess how happy or satisfied an employee was with the work environment, the behaviors at work, the attitude of leaders, etc. The inference was that come a certain time of the year, an employee could sit in the chair of the judge and check boxes on a left-to-right scale from 'Very Satisfied' to 'Dissatisfied'.

And then the lexicon began to shift - imperceptibly at first, but more boldly with the passage of years. Satisfaction transmuted to Engagement, and we had a new mantra. For most people this was puzzling; didn't the two mean the same in our context? even if there was a subtle difference, did it merit changing all possible relevant material?

Well, there is a difference in the nuance, if not in the overall intent. 

The term 'satisfaction' is more one-way, where the organization stands to serve, in a manner of speaking, and the employee is the recipient. 'Engagement', on the other hand, encompasses a relationship of mutuality. Both parties work with each other, there is some degree of give-and-take and both stand to benefit (or not) from the relationship.

By implication, the onus of furthering and nurturing this relationship rests with both employee and organization. No one side sits in judgement on the other. Both work towards common goals and then there is an assessment that is placed in the hands of the employee (the organization's assessment of the employee is a matter of another article!!!).

On a more tactical level 'satisfaction' is also viewed as acceptability of work environment, logistics or, in short, the 'hygiene factors'. 'Engagement' purports to be more comprehensive, covering not just enablers at work, but work and work relationships. It effectively takes further the assessment of the physical workplace to an assessment that is more meaningful, since employees come in to not just partake an environment, but to contribute to the core purpose.

So, does the changed terminology make a difference? Yes, it does. Gen X and Y of the workforce are more focused on the overall value proposition than they are on the basics. They need to know overall direction, they want to see how the dots link up, how they fit in and what they walk away with. They are not here to be 'satisfied', they want to be engaged and add value. So, it's no point asking them scores of questions on workplace basics that will have them merely shrug their shoulders and stifle a yawn. And, even though the questions on that survey may not be very different from yesteryear's, the positioning makes all the difference in their minds.

Finally, it's important to remember that this is not about a one-time, annual survey; it's about taking that as a baseline and working towards common goals. 'Satisfaction' is a point of arrival, whereas 'engagement' denotes year-round collaboration on working towards those goals and raising the bar... and then finding more goals to chase and things to better!                  

Monday, 13 August 2018

My delicious laptop

No, no, I've not turned to those kind of 'bytes', nor do I see my laptop as an 'assetizer'. It's just that my laptop now brings a wonderful deliciousness to my life, gives me visuals and descriptions to slurp over and makes life a spoon more yummy.

My gourmet cravings have been met from the most unexpected quarter - a drab, grey machine that (too) often transports me from the world of words and presentations to a haven of aromas and flavors. The teleportation is so effective that I have almost ceased missing the actual texture and taste of a divine dish on my palate; it's sublime enough to read the description, see the images jump out in high definition glory and drool over the recipe.

Long years ago, I would pore over those gorgeously mounted cookbooks, resplendent in their imported gloss and visual feasts. They would be too expensive to buy and the school library would be my stop for them. Behind wood and glass cabinets, they held a peculiar draw - prized, yet accessible. Every 'library period' I would treat myself to one of these confections. It was never enough to skim through them there, they needed to be issued and carried home gingerly in eager anticipation. Once home, I would furiously leaf through them and stick little pieces of paper (DIY bookmarks!) into pages that captured me. And then, once again, I would backtrack at a more leisurely pace and savor the contents.

Out would come my well-worn hardcover 'register' and painstakingly I would note recipe by recipe, ingredient by ingredient, method by method in laborious longhand. The irony of it was that at that time in life I neither had access to those exotic ingredients or the means to whip up those fantasies. God alone knows what I was doing for what time in the unknown future....

And then came the days when I had the means and the accesses. The endless poring over those longhand notes came to fruition and I started churning those recipes into wonderful (and sometimes far from wonderful) concoctions that we enjoyed. 

Time moved on and the internet came into our lives bringing an infinite world of many treasures to explore and relish. Today, it gives me a curious thrill to quickly scan my favorite food sites, pick a recipe that catches my eye, do deep research on techniques across the web, click on a button and print a long sheet of ingredients and instructions out - all in a matter of seconds. It also has become a stress-buster and deliberate distraction to hover between food sites, learn a bit and drool a bit more.

The sheets of paper get filed away in my big black book today. Some of them find their way to the kitchen and to a delectable (with heart in my mouth!) dish. But even today, I hold on to that frayed register and once ever so often turn those pages back in time.... that nostalgia is as overpowering as today's convenience.                

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

The culture conundrum

Companies today obsess about culture. Big or small, there is fast-growing realization within corporate corridors that commercial concerns acquire a distinctive aura under the culture umbrella.

Corporate culture has almost become the by-word for a credible, legitimate identity that transcends mere profit-making. It's what the brand, the employee proposition and the customer value all get associated with. And there is enough research out there to prove that a defined, robust culture has engaged employees who add value to customer service and relationships. This in turn translates to healthier bottom-lines and satisfied shareholders. In short, a sustainable commercial proposition.

But is this so easily attainable? And what actually defines the culture in an organization? Commercial propositions are coded in hard performance metrics - goals, targets, financials - that are keenly chased and tracked. On the other hand are the softer elements of managing an organization - soft skills, leadership attributes, organizational values. Very often, these become almost synonymous with 'culture', but that's not quite the fact. 

Culture is actually the environment that is created when the 'soft' elements interface with the 'hard' elements. More often than not, these end up in conflict by their very nature; this is the culture conundrum I'm referring to. Aggressive pursuit of targets often means sensitive leadership falling by the wayside. Regulatory environment may see ethical values being short-changed. Obsession with quantitative metrics could lead to qualitative decline. And so gets built a pattern of behaviors that become the organizational culture.

In effect, the practice of the softer elements in pursuit of the hard elements is what organizations need to target to create a desired culture. Here, I'd like to cite an excellent article by Tricia Emerson that articulates What You're Willing to Tolerate Sets The Tone For Your Company Culture .

The more aligned the notions of expected behaviors or values are to their practice and outcomes, the smaller will be the culture gap and the more robust the company's culture.



Friday, 3 August 2018

Connect to your audiences with these 3 E's

It's apt, even if a trifle cheesy, that the same tenets that work in interpersonal relationships and life also work in connecting with your audiences. Be it writing, speaking, presenting, advertising, it's about the 'hook' you create to get them in, the stickiness of what you say that keeps them there and the feeling you leave them with as they exit.

Too often, we get caught up in creating complex material and presenting it elaborately. We work on how we look, what we say, data we cite and the 'wow' we create. These are great, but if we need to create the three touch-points above effectively, it's as much about empathy, emotion and enjoyment.

I am not discounting all the other things that go into great delivery or presenting or writing. Nor am I over-simplifying a craft; just that, for me it's as much about including your audiences in the experience or knowledge that you are sharing with them.

1. Empathy: Anyone who takes the time out to listen to you or to read what you have to say wants to feel that you understand him or her and their points of reference in some way. They want to feel that you have similar pleasures and pains, constraints and challenges and if you have something to share it's because you have found a way to address these. Be it a business problem or a life-skills issue, we all want to listen to someone who can relate to us in a similar way. Speak my language and I hear you! So, actively create those moments of mutual sharing, of being on the same journey and having similar goals that we are trying to address and you will keep them close.

2. Emotion: This is a wide scale. From the emotion in your words and expressions to the emotions you are able to ignite in your audiences. Passivity puts off, so animated connect is imperative. More importantly, even complex theories and ideations can be communicated in a way that strikes a chord not just cerebral, but one that also speaks to the heart. Reference to a patient's travails when one speaks on automating the healthcare system does not take away from the gravity of the subject, it just adds a resonant dimension, gives a small tug at the heart. 

3. Enjoyment: We are all susceptible to humor, to a little fun, a relief-giving aside. And, we so often forget to inject that in our connections with people. Nothing stays more with you than a laugh shared or a fun moment. And, nothing is so serious that we can't lighten the tone. I have always admired how some people just have the gift of spontaneous humor. It's probably worth our while to consciously practice this and weave it into the narrative if it doesn't come naturally. Personally, one reason why I so love to hear President Obama is the heavy dose of humor that he appears to slip in so easily. And, while we may not intend to have a roomful of folks clutching their sides, smiles around are always welcome!

If these seem very 'touch and feel', I forewarned you - this is about connecting, in personal relationships as well as with audiences with whom you have another kind of a relationship!                   

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Beyond hype and hoopla - the case for brand authenticity

Everything is marketed. Everything is a 'brand'. Everything (uh okay, almost everything) has a price attached to it. No wonder, then, hype and hoopla herald everything. 

In the cacophonous marketplace that our world has become, it's just not enough to stand out; it's important to beat your chest and be shrill and in-your-face. So, whether it's a product or a persona, it's all about positioning and preening. Look around you and you will see what I mean... newspaper front page real estate has been sold to advertising, gimmicky marketing is the order of the day and if you don't have a business or personal platform (read website, social media page etc.), you are persona non grata !

As a professional communicator and brand promoter, this should be music in my life! But, truly, in my book honest-to-goodness authenticity wins hands down. Now, I'm not suggesting that we don't get out there to market our wares, or talk about them or put them up for all to see. But, what definitely riles me up is to promote and position that which isn't. And, in the rat-race for getting a toe ahead, we often fall into the trap of plugging and hyping to an extent that it borders on the false. 

This is the one thing that I want to put out there for professionals, or anyone, for that matter. It is important to advertise, but it's more important to be authentic. At the core of anything you market - whether it's a product or an idea or your own persona - is credibility. Credibility, or authenticity, is a baseline component of a brand's value. It is credibility that sustains long after the hype has blown over. The return footfalls, the repeat visits, the recurring inflows happen on the basis of the sheer solidity, quality and premise of what you have to offer. Hype gets in the first-time visitors, what makes them stick is the promise made good.

So much of what goes around today has little or no substance, and it is tempting (and easy!) to 'keep up with the Jones' in this regard. But, gradually, we are building a bubble society and economy and it will burst badly one day. It's not difficult to sell something that's great, but it sure is difficult to keep something poor going just on the basis of hype.   

Set up a great website, do the snazzy advertising, but only when you can put your hand on your heart and vouch for the values your products - or you - stand for!

Suggested reading:
Forbes >>>Steve Olenski/2015/09/15/ Brand value what it means....Forbes.com>Steve Olenski: brand value what it means...

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Wild Wild Country....Shock and awe

I'm not done yet, still two more episodes to go.... but I'm reeling under the onslaught of 'Wild Wild Country', the Netflix documentary on (Osho) Rajneesh. It is the first time I am getting to see up close what I had just heard or read about as a young person. 

Truly, this is one of the times you realize that the printed word just does not do credit to something so bizarre, so macabre, that it is actually 'out-of-the world'. I grew up on a sporadic diet of what the glossies fed us about the glamorous, hush-hush world of this self-styled guru who held sway over some pseudo elite circles in India in the late '70s and early '80s. In perhaps what was the curtain call to the flower children and the hippies that traipsed through the country in the '60s, this cult of free sex, free living, free-for-all held a kind of vicarious fascination for a pre-teenager. One read about them fleeing to Oregon (US), the fabled Rolls Royces, the star followers, the hypnotic speaker in his flowing robes and flowing beard. And then I lost track... it was too far away, too exotic to keep up with my humdrum, more immediate and acute growing pains.

When I first chanced upon the series, I didn't quite jump in; because by now it was a long-forgotten chapter with a vaguely murky end. Then, curiosity (or was it boredom?) got the better of me and I tentatively clicked 'play'. The narrative is compelling, toggling between some main players (Ma Anand Sheela, Rajneeshites, the then US Justice Department officials, journalists, Oregon residents and many more) recalling those momentous days, supported by actual visuals and TV clips from the archives. It begins with covering familiar ground in Pune, India and flashbacks from Oregon residents. 

As it unfurls, so does the underbelly of crime, drugs, murders, naked power, aggression, greed. And every time the epithet 'Bhagwan' is uttered, my insides squirm. Leave aside spirituality or God (the meaning of 'Bhagwan'), where was there even a particle of the promised peace to those thousands who left homes, careers and families to follow him? Was it truly the work of a master hypnotist? Was this what people looked for and got? Did this actually happen?

Sheela, the central character to Rajneesh's depicted life, the determined force behind his movement, strangely touched a nerve for me. The bright, love-filled, trusting eyes that I saw in the young, pretty woman who unabashedly professes, "I was in love with him', transmutes to a disillusioned, faded and weary old woman. And every tear that slips out of those eyes now is as authentic as the hard-as-nails, gritty persona of back then. Where did misplaced devotion lead her? 

And then there is Rajneesh. He, of the hypnotic gaze and the flowing robes and beards that popped out of every paper and magazine of the time. But, now I see him 'up close', I hear him. Weak voice, bad pronunciation, inane homilies and finally, drugged gaze and filth-spewing tongue. Wow, what a con!

I have yet to see the finale, but I may have seen enough.