“Parting is such sweet sorrow”, said William Shakespeare. Indeed, a deep comment!
Human beings love certainty; especially when the going is good, why should one think of rocking the boat? However, for each one of us, there is a time to say ‘goodbye’ and say ‘hello’ again. Like a child completes kindergarten school and moves on to primary school, we have to keep moving from one rung to another. It need not be a vertical climb from a lower rung to an upper rung always but we need some movement from time to time so that we get a fresh dose of energy and drive.
Life is melody when we love our job
We look forward to a new day at work when the work is interesting, the boss is supportive, the work environment is encouraging and the colleagues are people that we like to be associated ourselves. Over a period of time, we grow our relationships and start treasuring them or otherwise. An HBR article talks about a job that we love and draws a parallel with romance.
Not many of us are lucky to have a job that we love. Recent global research shows, employees are only moderately engaged with their organizations and leaders in countries like India, China, US and Canada, see this as one of their Top 3 challenges to be solved urgently. This is extremely critical for organizational success especially because we need employees to quickly adapt to volatile situations, solve problems proactively.
This underlines the point, a large number of us do not love our jobs though the employers have been trying to get us engaged and committed.
We have to evolve
As much we look to have a job that we love and develop a strong association with it, life takes its own course. Sometimes, it’s our ignorance or lack of adaptability that we fail to lap it up and take it in our stride. Notwithstanding these situations, many of us have jobs that we love dearly, we perform well day in, day out and receive appropriate amount of recognition. Life is a melody! However, we have to think of the future and unleash our potential. When going is good, it is worth introspecting if I am developing my capability to take on bigger roles and deliver greater impact. When the child does well in primary school, we do not keep her in primary levels for ever. When a CFO does well in the role and has possibly attained the heights that the environment could potentially provide, one has to look at greener pastures. We have to evolve!
Say hello again!
It is not an easy decision to firm up the time for uprooting oneself from the comfort zone. Due to our love for stability and equilibrium, we grow a fear of unknown and stay away from the risks associated with a new job, unexplored environment and unknown boss.
Sometimes people take the risk and jump into a new job, but it turns out to be a bad move. We have heard many such stories. These are enough to discourage one from moving out of the familiar land. We believe in the old adage, a known devil is better than an unknown angel. At the same time, we know of cases where people have taken the risk and created great impact for themselves and the society.
We have to introspect if we are adding value to ourselves with each passing year, delivering greater impact each year and there is a long enough runway ahead to roll before we take off. Moreover, one needs to deeply ask the question if one’s heart lies in what’s happening every day at work and one is measuring up to one’s own expectations. If answers to these questions are ‘YES’, then life is a melody and one can just keep enjoying the experience. Else, it’s time to say ‘hello’ to a new day. Unless one takes the step away from the safe harbour, it could be stunting one’s growth and inviting despair for the future.
Heard of Google Pizza Ambassadors or Developer Advocates? They represent a cross-section of the market that a brand looks to win over. HR folks have a task to attract the top talent and retain them. Marketers and Salespersons have the single-most important agenda to win customers, retain their trust and get their repeat orders. Finance people have something similar with not only the internal customers but also the financial institutions who play the vital role of financing their growth plans. There is practically nobody in an organization who can achieve one’s goals without the approval of an external stakeholder. How does one receive recommendation from others?
We need Brand Ambassadors
Organizations invest huge amount of energy and money in listening to the voices in the market. Not only the tech giants like Google, Amazon and Microsoft use brand ambassadors but companies in retail, consumer products, engineering, telecom and logistics develop customers who would advocate their products or services. It’s always more believable for a customer when someone similar has a positive experience of the brand. No amount of advertising and promotional campaigns can replace the power of recommendation of another person I can relate to.
You may be a surgeon, a chef, a designer, a plumber, an engineer, a customer service executive or an accountant, you need to understand why your role exists and how you must add value. The role becomes meaningful only when there are many takers of the work you are doing or the value that you are delivering. You as a brand shine when there are ambassadors talking about you and your work. Many others listen to their words and look forward to your piece of work.
Should you stack the deck?
Organizations have to put their best foot forward all the time so that their customers and all other stakeholders such as their own employees, suppliers and partners see the bright side of the work done by them. However, dressing up the bride beyond a point could create an unrealistic picture and set very high expectations in the minds of the stakeholders. It is impossible to meet those dream-like lofty expectations and hence, one shouldn’t make surreal attempts to glorify one’s strengths. We do not want to be a phoney brand that people get disenchanted with. Let us not burden ourselves with the problem of post-purchase dissonance! Realistic presentation of what one does well and how it adds value to the other stakeholder is desired.
HR folks need to provide a realistic job preview, engage their brand ambassadors to promote the brand promise appropriately and passionately. Similarly, marketers need to promise the values realistically, bosses must say what they mean to do, sub-ordinates must promise what they can deliver with their best efforts and so on.
We can plant the seeds by recruiting the right ambassadors, training them well about the brand promise, the narrative and the advocacy program. While they go about spreading the word around, it is important to monitor the program, the kind of engagement happening on the ground and making course-corrections. We have to be genuine and authentic. No stacking the deck, please!
When does one start receiving recommendations?
Loyal customers are not necessarily the brand advocates; they keep buying the product but do not have the urge to spread the word around. They do not have such high levels of passion and involvement with the brand or the value proposition that they would influence others positively about the brand. Ideally we need brand ambassadors who are not only loyal to the brand but also speak positively about their experience with the brand.
In our hyper-connected world of today, it is not difficult to spread the word around. Brand ambassadors have to be engaged well by the marketing team or the leader of the business. When we are trying to strengthen an employer brand, thereby attract and retain top talent, the HR team needs to find people within the organization who have progressed well and are willing to talk about their experience within the organization as well as the outsiders. They need to be identified, nurtured and highlighted so that they keep enthusing others with their positive experience. It is important to involve them appropriately in organization development activities so that they stay within their remit.
When such a program is managed well, a virtuous cycle sets in and the power of compounding kicks in. Organization starts seeing greater engagement of their employees, better financial results aided by higher levels of employee commitment.
Over the last few years, we see many organizations shunning job titles and thinkers in support of this move. Do employees not look for job titles? Titles give them an identity in the organization, within and outside. Recruiters often search for potential candidates based on job titles. One might not agree with what recruiters do, but that’s the reality. Do we not require job titles?
Set Expectations right
While you are building a large organization, attracting talent from the market and setting processes in place, it is important to have defined systems that work. Employees need clarity who will do what and what authority they have. We have to show a path that an employee can travel on and the destination ahead. We have to define the linkages of each role or job with the others in the organization so that the people occupying those positions work together and collaborate actively.
It could be fashionable for companies to say that all their employees are expected to service customers and hence, all are titled as Customer Service Executives. Similarly, one sees generic titles as Sales Associate, Innovation Evangelist, People Champion, Advisor, Executive and so on. Imagine a person in charge of finances of the company holds a title of People Champion and goes to negotiate the best deal with a supplier. The supplier would be left wondering if this person has the authority and money to buy anything for the organization at all. They would like to talk to a decision maker in procurement, supply chain or finance.
The job title needs to convey what function or department the person belongs to and how does the person fit into the organization’s overall structure. Secondly, the job titles have to be aligned with industry norms and practices so that the employee can use the title to introduce himself or herself in social circles as well as while meeting someone in work settings. Hence, job titles are critical parts of one’s identity within as well as outside an organization and must be done right.
Job Titles could restrict innovation
As a person plays a role in an organization and holds the title for a long time, he or she gets deeply entrenched in it. One’s world view gets defined accordingly and hence, one tends to restrict oneself from looking beyond, evaluating new possibilities, even suspecting other alternatives. Often the problems which are apparent to others do not surface because one operate in silos of such great depth that the vision cannot go beyond one’s own silo. One gets confined to a small place and deny oneself the opportunity of creating an impact on a bigger stage.
There are organizations who do not have job titles. Small communities like a family, a local club, the cake shop, the florist and the grocer round the corner do not have job titles in their organizations, yet they function very well. They expect their people to co-own the purpose of their organization and do whatever is required to achieve it. All the people who work in such organizations are members on equal footing and know who has what authority. There is no confusion among the members regarding their duties and responsibilities. They know the consequences of not following the charter of the institution they belong to. They surface problems and opportunities as soon as they spot them, do not let a trouble simmer for long, neither do they let an opportunity go waste. Job titles are not essential in these cases.
Allow Flexibilities when possible
They argue, employers cannot find right-fit talent all the time due to limitations in talent pool and inadequate pull-power of an employer brand. Sometimes we get fixated on the kind of person needed to fill a job title and hence, keep the role vacant with the hope of success for an elusive search process.
Rather, we could take on the talent who is good enough and enthused to get on board. The enterprise can go forward doing its business as usual and the new employee sees a long runway ahead. The HR Leader can fabricate a title that suits the capabilities of the person who is selected for the role and leave a headroom for the person to grow into the ideal title. Sounds sensible!
Job titles are needed for a large organization to run well and give an identity to the employees. However, we must be flexible in creating mobility of people holding job roles and innovatively fill roles to suit availability of talent.
“I believe that everyone chooses how to approach life. If you’re proactive, you focus on preparing. If you’re reactive, you end up focusing on repairing.” said John C. Maxwell
There is enough said and written about proactiveness. We are told in schools and homes to plan and prepare well before an event takes place. Organizations appreciate their employees when they plan well for an event, take initiative to solve problems and be the first-mover in anticipating a change and seizing upon the opportunity. Yet everyone in our family, community and workplace does not think ahead, let alone acting on anticipation of the next event. Being proactive is not something which is found commonly. Mahatma Gandhi had said, “Future depends upon what you do today.” There are enough stories and quotes that inspire us to be proactive.
What stops us from being proactive?
Being the first-mover, taking the first step is not easy because one needs to be disposed towards taking charge, generating change and driving it. This is a personality trait and hard to reconfigure without a strong will. We have to recruit right!
Rewiring the instincts and styles is possible with help from a coach who shows the mirror honestly and inspires the person to change. Secondly, one must have the knowledge of the subject to understand the situation and design the change. Lastly, the change has to be driven by the person. One can acquire the knowledge and skills from a trainer, peer, boss and anyone who one looks upto.
Lastly, the work environment and the norms at the workplace can either spur proactiveness or inhibit it. Some managers tend to be more instructive than the others, supervise their teams closely and centralize decision making with themselves. In such an environment, team members are not empowered enough to take initiatives. The scope of innovative thinking, proaction and planning for the future gets curbed.
Do we need everyone to be proactive?
It is good if a secretary while booking the tickets for the boss starts preparing documents required for the meetings during the travel. The boss might not have asked for those specifically; might not need anything in particular. However, knowing that a travel is coming up and preparing for it, is proactiveness and can help the boss and the organization in its effectiveness.
Sometimes, the secretary could go overboard and fires from the boss’ shoulders to get the direct reports prepare many reports and presentations. If the boss doesn’t require them, it becomes wastage of organizational energy and costly person-hours. Moreover, the stress could have been managed better. A better idea would have been to prepare a checklist of items that she was planning and running it past the boss.
Nature of work is another important aspect to consider. A consulting organization could unleash its potential if its people take charge themselves, walk the extra mile and collaborate to learn the best practices, deploy them in solving customer issues and build excellent solutions. However, in a manufacturing plant, if every worker tries to innovate and experiment with the tools, equipment and materials, it could be a disaster!
What can an organization do?
There is no doubt that proactive employees can take the team and the organization to greater heights of performance buoyed by delighted clients and efficient work processes. The energies of self-drive and initiative could become ineffective if employees try to step into the territories of the others and take decisions on their behalf. These energies need to be directed in the right way so that the improvements and actions of planning are carried out in relevant areas.
Secondly, people have great ideas concerning various areas of work in an organization. Salespeople can suggest how finance team can improve the billing process, supply chain can reduce the time to deliver, design team can bring new products faster and so on. Finance team will have ideas for supply chain to reduce inventory, marketing team to prioritise the ad-spend on profit margins and so on. Leaders have to build a platform within the firm to inspire cross-functional collaboration.
Last but not the least, the leaders have to set examples of what is a right behaviour and what is not. When a wrong behaviour is demonstrated by a good performer, the leader has to have the courage of setting this right. Someone is energetic, enthusiastic and a top performer earning recognition all the time. However, the person habitually criticises actions in all other areas of work. The leader has to have a chat with the person explaining how this behaviour doesn’t help anyone. The person has to be shown the way of collaborating with the others and influence them in such a way that the organization improves. More often than not, leaders hesitate to have this challenging conversation with the person and thus, spoil an opportunity of setting an example.
We need a balanced approach in encouraging proactiveness and channelizing the energies positively towards building a great institution.
Scientist Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States had famously said, “A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body”. Our houses have become homes in the last few weeks with a lot of food and fire for our minds. Debates, discussions, conjectures, swipes and swats have been all over the place about the behaviours of men and women towards someone who appeared weaker than them. A great amount of social awareness has livened up the last few weeks.
Do you need to go soft?
We are faced with challenges to redefine boundaries around inter-personal relationships not only at work and public spaces but also within a family and among relatives. When you are a boss, you reprimand an erring team member, celebrate successes of your team and get the members to stretch the limits. Over a period of time, people develop certain habits – their way of addressing colleagues, reacting to tough situations, motivating someone to walk the extra mile and so on. In the current context, one is rethinking if any of these behaviours could be an excess, a team member could reach the internal complaints committee feeling marginalised, violated, harassed, humiliated! Is there a need to go soft?
Needless to mention, there is fire burning and there have been many casualties. Hopefully, all of them are guilty and they are receiving the punishment albeit late than never. In the process, there will be some collateral damage, for sure. However, it doesn’t mean, one needs to make an extra effort to be nice and wear a mask of sweetness and distance. As long as one’s intentions are clear, there must be no fear of trials.
Why does one tolerate the abuse?
There have been millions of posts and tweets in the last one month on #MeToo. There is no denying the fact that an overwhelming majority of them are genuine. They all suffered silently due to a score of reasons. They did not have the courage of resisting the pain when they faced it. They did not realize, they were one among many victims. They chose to side-step the issue, tried to run away from it wherever possible, take it in their stride when they couldn’t duck it; some of them had to quit the scene and sacrificed their dreams because it was too much to bear.
Now that the dark underbelly is out in the open, nobody needs to tolerate the abuse. Rather, we need to know what kind of a situation is an abuse. We have POSH Act in India. Organizations will soon take actions to explain their employees what could be an abuse, violation or harassment. And at the same time, there should be clarity around dealing with false, frivolous or vengeful complaints so that noises are dissuaded from creeping into the system and distracting the mainstream.
#MeToo need not be a moment for the women alone. A woman could abuse her authority or power to exploit another woman or a man. Worse when someone cannot resist the temptation of tolerating the abuse. One might have consented wilfully because the person received a favour in return. Sometimes one tolerates the abuse because one wants to buy the security of the current entitlements and finds no other alternate path to pursue. Sometimes one is a prisoner of ignorance because one has landed up in a new world accepting the abuse as the norm and reconciles with it. In any of the three situations, one cannot justify the action of the predator. We have to keep them at bay and build our social fabric in such a way that the predatory thoughts are curbed at the bud.
What do organizations do?
Organizations have policies and procedures. Law of the land mandates the employers to have a structured approach to deal with the offences at workplace. However, they do not prevent harassment.
Values and beliefs of the founders, the lives led by the senior managers and the decisions taken by them day to day determine the internal environment. The way you express camaraderie, conduct at the workplace, take care of customers, push the limits and negotiate tough days are all determined by the culture in the organization. It takes years to establish the culture and a few days to spoil it.
The leaders on the floor have to play the role of making the house a home that provides safety, peace, joy and growth to all its inmates. Our homes and schools need to lead the way of defining what a home is and its rules.
Who doesn’t want to achieve great results and earn the rewards? We all try to do well in whatever we set ourselves on. However, going gets tough and we give up along the way. That is why Thomas A. Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Keep at it!
We have to overcome the power of self-doubt and fear of losing the game. Assuming that we do our best, it is not plausible to deliver exceptional results always. Dashun Wang at Kellogg School of Management and team researched on career success and studied careers of about 30000 scientists, artists and film directors to understand how and when they produce super-hits. Their study says that super-hits cannot be scripted. They are not linked with age or experience. The recipe for success is to keep at it and do more with all earnestness. Interesting finding!
Stephen Covey said, “Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.”
Educational degrees that we acquire by hard work give us an edge in life. It opens doors for us to a variety of possibilities. We get our passport to pick challenging assignments. Rarely can one acquire high degrees without the talent for it. This is the first step on the ladder, needless to say.
Along the way of our work life, we establish our track record and build a legacy. The way we live our life at work remains etched in the minds of the stakeholders of a business. Right from the boss, co-workers and subordinates to business associates and clients, they measure us in terms of our integrity, honesty, fairness, punctuality, energy, attitude, standards of excellence, behaviours and so on. This network of contacts gets built over a period of time and remains testimony to our professionalism.
Intellectual brilliance combined with a strong network of contacts becomes a potent weapon to conquer new peaks on the career path. Sometimes, this weapon boosts one’s ego so much that the strength starts to be a vulnerability. Arrogance and immodesty creep in; decisions start going awry and the team starts losing faith. While the mechanics on the ground could continue yielding doses of success, they do not sustain over a long time.
The poet Tennyson once said that humility is, “the highest virtue, the mother of them all.” Studies have shown, success in life is often rooted in the learning and practice of being humble and less prejudiced.
Believe in Yourself!
Steve Jobs said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
We drop the ball when challenges appear invincible. Possibly it is because we do not associate with the goal strongly. Possibly, we do not own the task at hand and the long-term purpose behind it. Easier said than ending up with a job that is so dear to the heart! However, exceptional results can happen only when we own the challenge whole-heartedly and burn moments of our life conquering the challenge. We do not have to the entrepreneur or the owner of a business to own the task. A Finance Manager, a Sales Executive, a Front Office Executive can deliver exceptional result only when the concerned person clearly knows how the business works, how he or she fits in the overall scheme of things and the impact that can be produced by the person.
Delivering superior results each day may be a random event but one has to keep at it honestly. “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” —William Shakespeare. So, let’s unleash our potential!