My mother – I learned​ from you as well, not just father

Most of my childhood memories are monopolized by my father; I was very close to him. My mother’s silent love and care were dwarfed by my father’s strong presence, overt expression of love, storytelling (he was an awesome storyteller) and countless other things. As a child, I thought of my mother like a shadow, whose presence I always felt; but a presence that never sought attention; a love that I took for granted.

I realized her power, her strength, and her unfailing yet undemanding love much later. As I reflect back, over the years, she taught lessons without uttering a single word; she allowed her actions for me to learn. While I have always raved about my father ( I even opened this post with him), I have never publicly expressed my love and how much I value her presence in my life. More importantly, I have never acknowledged the role-model she has been for me!  What better day to do it than on the eve of Mother’s Day! 

Three key things that I have learned from her are:

1. Be objective and practical, especially in difficult circumstances – I caught the first glimpse of it when I decided to marry someone from another state and caste. My father was furious, he wouldn’t simply agree to the marriage. But, my mother was objective. Despite being orthodox, she went beyond the obvious man-made differences and decided to give more importance to my boy friend’s character and our love. She was a pillar of support me through the period.

I again witnessed this strength when my father was diagnosed with terminal stage of cancer. He was still in his 50’s and our world suddenly came upside down. The prognosis was not more than few months. I expected my mother to completely break down, leaving my father’s care and other responsibilities to me and my husband. To my surprise, she stayed calm, took practical decisions – small and big, asked for help, took care of her own health in order to take care of her husband’s health – she practically became a pillar of strength and support to all of us. She was grieving, we would catch her silently wiping off her tears (when she thought she is unobserved), but she did not allow her grief to make her impractical and unnecessarily emotional. Her being practical made a world of difference, to herself and all of us around her.

2. Be adaptable, without losing your essence – Here again, I can relate countless incidents. The one I believe stands out is her tolerance to non-vegetarian food. A few decades back, she would not partake a meal at someone’s house if they were non-vegetarians. She would eat only if she was absolutely sure that the meal was cooked in separate kitchen. Today, chicken is cooked in her kitchen – albeit in different utensils. She found her ways to adapt to the new reality, without losing her essence. She still does not even eat eggs. It might seem very simple to rest of the world, but my South Indian Brahmin friends would understand the difficulty and adaptation it demands!

3. Be happy and contended with what you have – this really stands out for my mother. I have rarely seen her crib about things that she doesn’t have. She has seen several ups and downs in life, very difficult phases, including tough financial circumstances. However, she has always been contended and happy with what she has. Not that she does not aspire to have more, I am sure she does. But, she is grateful for what she has – which is why she probably gets more to be grateful for.

Happy Mother’s Day amma! May God bless you with pink of health and a long happy life. May we be blessed with your presence for years and years to come!

Generous Maternity Benefit is good, but not enough

The Maternity Act in India has doled out some wonderful benefits; a generous 26 weeks leave, compulsory crèche, work from home options and

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Credit – coachingforleaders.com

so forth. Many organizations in India are beginning to offer all this and more!  No doubt this is a welcome move, but it’s time to take a pause and ponder if it is enough to meet the goal that many organizations are pursuing: build leadership pipeline of women and having higher representation of women at senior and CXO levels? Or is it merely scratching the surface of the problem.

What happens after 6 months? Even with work from home option, women still have to get back to work by the time the child is or one or so. A one-year-old child needs significant attention and care. Separation anxiety also builds up around this age, making it none too easier for women.

On the other hand, women join workforce in huge numbers. But, they leave in between. There is a significant drop in numbers as we go up the corporate ladder.  Interestingly, they do not vanish suddenly. They vanish from workforce over a period of time. If there are 25% women in junior management, they reduce to 15% by middle and to a mere 4 or 5% at senior and top level. The maternity benefit can help retain women at typically junior or middle level – assuming that’s the child bearing age. But, what about the leaking pipeline, maternity benefit can hardly be a solution to this problem.

I believe that one of the real challenge lies in expectations from the society and home.

Societal expectations – How about a house husband? How comfortable is this idea in our society? It would take tons of courage and confidence for a man to become a house husband, even if he wants to. Whereas a housewife raises no eyebrows, it’s almost a norm. Society expects a man to be the primary bread-earner and provide for the family, while the primary responsibility of a woman is to take care of home and children (even if she is working).  Man is expected to work up the corporate ladder, while it’s okay for a woman to go slow on her career. When a husband gets a good offer, the wife is expected to move with him, if required even by taking a career break. Can the husband do the same? Can he relocate If the wife gets a good opening in another city? It gives such immense pleasure to see few men doing it today, but its far and few. The first step is to modify the societal expectations and bring equality – let careers be pursued by men and women as per their choice, not based on societal expectations.

Expectations at Home – The societal expectations creep into homes. Boys are expected to get into professional education enabling them to provide for their families in future. While several families encourage girls to study well and even get into professional education, they are also prepared for taking care of household chores. Jobs are classified into male and female jobs. Subtle messages about these responsibilities are unconsciously passed on to children – both boys and girls – in growing up years. While this is changing in many families, there is still a long way to go.

Impact of these expectations on women – Expectations from the society and home, understood and imbibed from childhood, have a strong impact on women. When faced with a dilemma – work or home – many get influenced by the subtle biases deeply embedded in the sub-conscious. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all right for a woman to drop out of workforce or decide to take a low profile job for a certain period or permanently – it’s her personal decision. But, the question to ponder is would women approach work differently, search for more solutions, be more creative about their careers, put in more efforts to stay in workforce and make more efforts to grow up the career ladder had the expectations from society and home been different?

What can organizations do to remove these subtle biases, first from the minds of women?

What can women do to unlearn these biases?

Answers to these questions would help organizations meet the diversity agenda. As I come back with few thoughts in next post, would love to hear your thoughts to these questions. 

Employee loyalty is dead; tips for organizations in this new reality

A statement made by a senior HR leader with decades of experience, struck a chord with me. He said that couple of decades back, if a person was changing jobs every fHand writing Loyalty with blue marker on transparent wipe board.ew years, he would hesitate to hire that person. However, today if a person has stayed in the same organization for a long time, he would hesitate to hire him. His statement provides a good insight into employment norms and associated perceptions today.

In yester years, organizations promised long-term employment and opportunities to employees. Employee loyalty was rewarded. High performers grew in the organization, while the average performers continued to stay in their roles or grow at a slower pace. Jobs were secure and employees rarely thought of moving out. However, the concept of ‘life-long employment’ is gone, except probably in Government Service. The scenario has changed drastically as:

  • Companies have been chipping off on the relationship side with lay-offs, redundancies, firings etc. Irrespective of the experience – direct or vicarious – this has left an indelible mark on relationship between employees and organizations
  • Changing work preferences of employees – desire to gain new exposure, take up challenging assignments, willing to experiment, open to take risks with career
  • Plethora of opportunities for those willing to experiment and take risks
  • Changing attitude of employees towards work; employees increasingly are asking questions like “Is my work meaningful?”, “Does it fit with my life?”, “Am I learning? Is the role helping me stay on track of my career goals?”

I remember an exit interview taken couple of years back. The employee said; “I spent 4 great years of my life here. I learnt a lot, made many friends and had a wonderful experience. I am taking with me the experience and the network I created here, its invaluable.” I realized that he is telling the truth! That’s how many employees are seeing their work today – a milestone in a long a journey – no hard feelings.

Ironically, companies still crave for long-term employee loyalty. It’s measured in all employee engagement surveys and considered a key indicator of employee engagement.

Given this gap between desire and reality, what should organizations do? Especially traditional organizations that still look for long-term employee loyalty and reward an employee only after he / she demonstrated it. Few thoughts:

  • Adapt to changed context, follow the principle of ‘give the best, get the best’. Give the employee an exposure and experience that he will treasure now and years to come! Inspire him to deliver his best work every day, irrespective of whether he has spent 1 year or 3 or 5 or more years in the organization.
  • Minimize claw-back rewards. If an employee wants to leave, he will leave. Claw-back rewards do not hold back employees, instead it becomes a weapon to negotiate better compensation in next organization.
  • Create an organization with strong foundation of Values and Culture. This will ensure that the core culture of the organization remains intact, irrespective of people movement.
  • Having said that, organizations, more importantly, long serving managers should be open to different perspectives and experiences brought by new people. It’s a delicate balance between retaining the core culture and Values, without stifling the new people with old ways of working.
  • Valuing relationships with employees – whether they stay with the organization or decide to move out. Genuinely believe in the power of network and relationships; largely created by people movement across organizations and industries.

Question to ponder upon are: are your employees as well as ex-employees your brand ambassadors?

Dear life

Oh dear life, you are so full of surprises!
Just as I imagine things are in control, you spring a challenge, throwing everything upside down,
Just as I feel the looming dark clouds unbearable, you wave a magical wand opening vistas to a clear blue sky.
When my heart is brimming with joy, a tear trickles down,
The tear of happiness!
Through this one tear, dear life, you make me realize the thin line you have drawn between ups and downs, joys and sorrows, success and failures.
When going is tough, you gently nudge me, to go on and open the next chapter you have written for me…. a chapter full of blessings
Oh dear life, you are so full of paradoxes!
Bless me with courage to stay positive in difficult times and stay grounded in happier ones.
Oh dear life, grant me the resolve to live every moment you bring along and love you the way you are!!

Are the millennials really so different? Or is the difference exaggerated?

Gen Y or the millennials is probably the most studied generation both by consulting firms as well as academia. Several studies have been done on their work preferences; highlighting the significant difference from its previous generation, the Gen X. Most common findings from these studies highlight that millennials:

  1. Don’t work for paycheck instead, they work for a purpose
  2. Give high importance to work-life balance
  3. Aren’t just happy with a job, but are more focused on development
  4. Don’t just want annual performance discussion, but want continuous performance feedback
  5. Don’t want bosses, but look for coaches; they don’t like command and control, but want bosses who can develop them

Couple of questions bother me about these findings:

  • Are the studies over generalizing a large section of population? Can all the Gen Y’s be put in the same cluster?
  • Is the generation so significantly  different from Gen X?

I don’t have a study to back what I say, but my experience and sheer observation makes me believe otherwise.

Need for purpose over paycheck. If we look around in a country like India, there are thousands of young folks (millennials) working extremely long hours in repetitive work environment like retail, hospitality, manufacturing, logistics for precisely the reason that studies show otherwise – a paycheck. They might see a purpose in their jobs, but it’s the paycheck that matters more at the last mile. A mere hike of Rs. 1000 gets these employees to switch jobs. On the other hand, there are several well paid senior employees, the Gen X, who work more for purpose and desire to make a difference and not for the hefty pay check they take home. Thus, it’s the economic and social context that defines the balance between ‘purpose’ and ‘paycheck’ and probably not so much of generational difference. 

Need for ‘work-life balance’, as highlighted by studies is driving organizations to create flexible work arrangements, specifically to adapt to Gen Y needs. I would like to ask my Gen X readers, wouldn’t you want to have a flexible work arrangement? I would for sure love to go to work when I want to and work from where I want to. Just that many of the Gen X employees, in their formative years of work, never had opportunities like this. Not because they did not want it, but because the nature of work and the brick and mortar work environment made it unfeasible. So, they got used to working in a fixed regime. But, now that flexi work is possible, Gen X would love to have flexible work and a good work-life balance, as much as the Gen Ys. In fact, a recent employee engagement study data that I came across clearly indicated that flexible work is a common need across generations.

Need for development, not just a job. I would request my Gen X readers to reflect on the best job or role that they ever held. What was the distinguishing feature? I am confident that among other things, development will play an important role. I know of colleagues, who gave up high paying jobs, and took up roles at lower salary just because it gave them good learning opportunities. Agreed, some stuck to their jobs despite lack of development – that again might have been because of the overall economic circumstances or individual preferences. Today, we see so many job losses in start-ups and e-commerce – will the Gen Ys who recently got a pink slip not take up a job, even if there is lower development?  

Need for constant performance feedback, a boss who does not command and control, but is a coach. Again, I would request my Gen X readers to think of the best boss that they ever worked with. And their experience of working with a boss (hopefully not too many) who they hated to work with! Needless to say, we hate working with a boss who adopts a command and control approach and gives negative feedback end of the year when you can do nothing about your performance. No one – be it a Gen X or a Gen Y – would like to work with a boss who just bosses around!  

Thus, the so-called distinct preferences of Gen Y are probably not  dependent on generations, but are more likely to be based on the:

  1. Context in which they were brought up and educated
  2. Economic and social circumstances
  3. Individual preferences

What does it mean to organizations? Two things:

  • Instead of highlighting the differences between Gen X and Gen Y, trying to train and enable the Gen X managers to manage the Gen Y employees better, focus on helping the two generations understand each other better and see the commonalities.
  • Avoid over generalizing and treating all the millennials as same – I have personally worked with millennials who cared a darn for work-life balance, as long as they got to learn and grow. Whereas there were some who refused to take calls after 6 pm. We have all seen colleagues of both kinds, in both generations, it had more to do with their individual preferences and not their generation!

Growth mind-set – a pathway to success!

It happened almost two decades back, but I vividly remember the emotions as if it happened yesterday: sense of failure and melancholy. I was facilitating a session on Key Account Management for the first time, I had prepared for it for days. But, by lunch time, the participants were walking out of the room! They found the session extremely boring. My manager quickly stepped in and brought a co-facilitator; in reality changed the facilitator. I was merely standing on the side trying to hold back my tears with all the strength I could muster.

Another equally painful experience happened a year later, when I wrote a concept note for a project. The COO found it absolutely useless – with no structure, consistency, lack of clarity, etc. etc. He did not mince his words while throwing the paper back at me. I don’t blame him, it surely could have been written much better. Again, I fell hard. The project was given to someone else; a project that I was eagerly looking forward to lead.

I am sure many of us can recall incidents like this in our lives. Incidents that shook us up! The key to our success depends not on these incidents, but on how we react to them and the actions that we take afterwards. Our success depends on our ‘growth mind-set’, a concept defined by Carol Dweck. She defined two mind-sets: ‘Growth mind-set’ and ‘Fixed mind-set’.

A growth mind-set comes from the belief that one’s basic qualities can be cultivated through effort. People differ greatly – in aptitude, talents, interests, or temperaments – but everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

In contrast to this, a fixed mind-set comes from the belief that one’s qualities are carved in stone. Characteristics such as intelligence, personality, and creativity are fixed traits, rather than something that can be developed.

Needless to say, growth mind-set can act as a pathway to one’s success, both professional and personal. What actions can one take to develop the growth mind-set? Here are few actions that helped me:

  1. Be genuinely open to negative feedback – Some managers are good at giving negative feedback while some are outright bad. Either ways, it’s never easy. Let’s accept it, it hurts! But it’s important not to allow the emotions to reject the feedback, but let it to sink in without any bias.
  2. Have an honest self-reflection – after the initial wave of emotions subside. Reflect on what went wrong, why did it go wrong, what could have been done differently. It’s important not to blame others at this stage, but to analyse in a dispassionate manner.
  3. Ensure you have a confidant, be it your manager, colleague, friend, spouse – someone with whom you can have a heart-to-heart conversation. Someone who will truly guide you to chart out a path and stay on course. My husband has been my confidant over last 20 years. I have also been lucky to get few managers, colleagues and even team members at various stages who enabled me stay on course. Without their support, I simply couldn’t have navigated such difficult times
  4. Believe in yourself and just go for it – guess this is where the real ‘growth mind-set’ comes into play – Whenever I fail at something, I try to tell myself, “no one has been born doing this, if others can learn to do it, I too can”

My effort has been to outline few actions that have helped me personally. I am confident there are several approaches that have been adopted by others. Look forward to hearing your experiences – how you have lived and developed growth mind-set!  

Employee engagement is not enough

Organizations constantly strive to enhance employee engagement. What does an engaged employee look like? Let’s consider the example of Cyrus, an employee working with an organization for a decade. He is loyal, speaks highly about the company, is committed, comes to work every day, does not complain, works hard and puts in efforts to do a good job of the tasks assigned to him. What will his scores on a typical engagement survey look like – most likely high.

If most of the employees in an organization are like Cyrus, an employee engagement survey may throw up satisfactory results. Will an organization be satisfied if most of its employees are like Cyrus – loyal, hardworking, committed, talking highly about the organization? More importantly, can an organization today afford such a situation?

One of my ex-bosses would have called this a rhetorical question. I can imagine the sarcasm in his voice while he says, “Please don’t ask rhetorical questions”.

Of course organizations need engaged employees, but it’s not enough. The market dynamics are ever changing, we are operating in VUCA world. In order to succeed, organizations need employees who are energized, not just engaged.

There is a distinct difference between engaged and energized employees. Energized employees have high sense of urgency to get things done, they do not wait to be told on what needs to be done. They have a strong alignment to the purpose and feel that they have a significant impact on their jobs, bring their best thinking and ideas and strive to achieve break-through results through innovative thinking. Their energy is palpable and infectious.

Energy, while being an internal force emanating from within the employees – can be managed; it can be sustained, enhanced or depleted by the work environment. I am confident, most of us reading this statement can relate to it. There are environments where we have felt energized and otherwise; environments created by leaders and managers, albeit unwittingly. So, the question to ask is – are my employees energized? How is the work environment and culture, leaders and the managers enhancing their energy and not depleting it?

While there are many aspects that play a strong role in moving employees from engaged to energized, listed here are three key ones.  First, the ability of the leaders (and the managers alike) to spark others to deliver extraordinary performance. The key is about getting employees excited about the purpose and how they are truly making a difference. This has to be authentic, not superficial. Second, challenging them and truly empowering them to deliver the results that they are excited about. Thirdly, allowing employees to constantly learn. It has the potential to become a virtuous cycle; enhancing their belief in future growth, as a result passion and excitement.