Stop abusing the word ‘Impact’ in performance discussions

Photo courtesy: Christian Faith

Photo courtesy: Christian Faith

How often have we heard a manager say, “You do good work, but I din’t see you bring impact?” A lot of performance management conversations ride on the back of ‘impact.’ While the smart (read crafty) employee uses it to steer the conversation for her/his benefit, it is the ultimate weapon that a manager uses to justify a promotion, increment, or an average rank to the guy s/he doesn’t like. Most of the ‘average blokes’ find it hard to defeat the impact argument during the performance review conversation. Most come out of the room grumbling without knowing why, while a few others even come out convinced though defeated. We grumble, we burn our blood, and we have endless conversations about why we deserved more but couldn’t get our fair share. We even grumble that the ‘smart-ass’ manipulator in the team, who has the IQ of a pocket calculator, has inched his way ahead by justifying his ‘impact.’

So what should the average bloke keep in mind the next time s/he hears about impact?

1. Too many impacts may bring the structure down. Physics has the answer to why any structure should not suffer too many impacts, big or small. Period. Running a business is not always about impact.

2. Nothing in this world is really an invention, but merely an improvement on somebody else’s work. The next time, when the pocket-calculator colleague boasts about her/his ‘life-altering idea’ it should not be too hard to prove that idea was merely borrowed.

3. Respect every individual’s uniqueness. There is no point for a manager to expect someone to share the same beliefs as himself. Employees who prove that they are perfectly in alignment with their manager’s beliefs have sold their souls and are now mere puppets. They seem to act and talk straight out of a script. The only fair thing to do is to make sure that every employee is respected and celebrated for her/his uniqueness.

4. I have the right to know where I really lag. Instead of hiding behind the shield of ‘impact’, it is alright to be forthcoming and make someone aware of her/his true weakness. A manager has a moral responsibility toward her/his team members, though it might even mean losing the employee in the near future. That’s what makes us different from army ants.

There may be others to this list, but these are my top ones.

How to ensure that you retain a worthy job

Changing academic and professional preferences are changing the way organisations will create job roles and employ talent in the coming times

The Hindustan Times reported today that a U.S. student, Ugbaad Kenyan, has been awarded a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to study Urdu in Lucknow.  Kenyan, who has keen interest to study the political history between India and Pakistan hopes that the eight week programme will enrich his knowledge and insight about the region. It will not be too far-fetched to argue that Kenyan’s academic choice was rather unconventional for a time when the global job market continues to shrink and the talent pool seeks to learn market-ready skills to get a job and stay employed.

What will define employability in the coming times?

It is no secret that the most demanded skills or “hot skills” in the employment market are cyclical and employment trends determine skilling preferences of present and future talent. Before the IT revolution transformed the employment market with high-paying salaries and swanky offices, core engineering disciplines featured in the list of hot skills. Lately, this has caused a shortage of core discipline skills across all economies and the supply gap is swaying the balance back toward “hard” skills in the market.

USA Today, a leading daily publication, conducted a country-wide analysis to understand the state of skill demand in the US market in 2013. The analysis reveals that hard skills are in short supply in the US market especially in the discipline of machines and core engineering.  A Forbes article states that some of the most trending skills of today, such as social media marketing, may cease to be in demand in the near future.  In many ways, this holds true for many of the economies in the developed and emerging markets, including India.

Some market experts argue that two critical aspects of professional capabilities will likely shape employment potential of talent in the coming times.

Employers will seek adaptability, not specialisation

A few months back, People Matters published an article titled, “Skilled or adaptable: what does your resume say?” arguing that progressive employers look for diversity of experience rather than specialisation.  It is important that existing and prospective talent of the future gain exposure to varied experiences so that the resume becomes diversified and interesting. For example, a resume that highlights that the candidate is an “IT administrator and an avid photographer” will attract more interest than one that says, “10 years of PMP experience.”

In the Indian market, workforce reports suggest that experienced IT professionals are likely to face mid-career crisis in the next 2-3 years with opportunities drying up owing their super specialised professional experience.

Niche skills will be in demand

As the demand for conventional skills drop, organisations are witnessing a number of unconventional applications for job positions. The IIJI-Teamlease Employment Outlook report for Jan-March 2013 reveals that there is a large demand for niche skills in the employment market. Employers are looking to employ talented communicators, social-media natives, and creative thinkers to devise business and marketing strategies despite them not having any relevant experience.

As adaptable and niche capabilities will drive employment potential in the future, it is equally important for existing talent to work toward gaining new and diverse experiences to be able to hold on to meaningful jobs.

How likely are you to overrate or underrate yourself while appraising yourself?

1. How do you tend to base your opinions while rating yourself?

A. I lay greater emphasis in conforming to my personal expectations
B. I lay greater emphasis in understanding what my boss and peers expect out of me
C. I aim to identify the gaps between my personal expectations and other’s expectations from me

2. What successes do you usually refer while rating yourself?

A. Recent successes, or big wins in the past 1-2 months
B. Successes across the span of my professional career
C. Successes across the last 12 months

3. Which setbacks do you usually refer while rating yourself?

A. Setbacks across the span of my professional career
B. Recent setbacks, or failures in the last 1-2 months
C. Setbacks across the last 12 months

4. How would you rate your skills and competencies?

A. I have skills and competencies that are niche and difficult to acquire commonly
B. I have skills and competencies that others can easily acquire
C. I have skills and competencies that others can acquire with effort and experience

5. How would you rate skills and competencies of your peers and superiors?

A. I can easily acquire the skills and competencies of my peers and superiors
B. My peers and managers have skills and competencies that are extremely difficult to acquire
C. With effort and experience, I can acquire some of the skills and competencies of my peers and superiors

6. How would you rate your cognitive intelligence (grammatical skills, logical reasoning, and humor)?

A. I possess greater cognitive intelligence than my peers and superiors
B. My peers and superiors have greater cognitive intelligence compared to mine
C. My cognitive intelligence is dependent on my experience and exposure to key areas of my occupation

7. How would rate the quality of your education and past experience?

A. My education and past experience is superior to my peers and managers
B. My peers and superiors have worked and studied in larger and more renowned establishments
C. I work for an organization where most others have similar education and past experience

8. How would you rate the social stature of your family?

A. My family is more prosperous and educationally accomplished compared to my peers and superiors
B. My family is less prosperous and educationally accomplished compared to my peers and superiors
C. I work for an organization where most others come from a families with a social stature similar to mine

9. How do you feel about the development gaps in your last review?

A. I strongly feel that I have bridged all development gaps that reflected in my last review
B. I feel that some development gaps still remain
C. My manager and peers are on the same page as I am about my development gaps

10. How do you feel about the work that your team and your organization does?

A. I believe that my team, and the products and services of my organization, are rather mediocre
B. I believe that my team, and the products and services of my organization, have always been the best-in-class
C. I believe that my team, and the products and services of my organization, are at par with the rest of the market

More As indicate the likelihood of over-rating yourself
More Bs indicate the likelihood of under-rating yourself
More Cs indicate the likelihood of a balanced review

Do you really intend to hire humans?

It appears from job descriptions that organisations are looking really looking to hire assembly line robots rather than humans

Job descriptions—they are everywhere— in employment dailies, job portals, and in e-mail inboxes. Why then, do recruiters continue to complain about long recruiting cycles and irrelevant applications? Alibies abound!  They range from the data-driven such as dearth of quality talent and geographical skill concentration, to the purely nonsensical such as cost constraints and macro-economic conditions.

Sifting through hundreds of irrelevant job applications costs an organisation precious time and resources. Research indicates that the most common cause of receiving irrelevant job applications is a poorly crafted job description.

A job description is the first touch point of a hiring organisation with the prospective talent pool. In many ways, a job advertisement is similar to a note one sends to ask someone for a date on Valentine ’s Day. What works or doesn’t, depends on how well the note is able to portray genuine intent and earnestness.  And much like a Valentine’s date proposal, a job description is an appeal to the candidate to consider the prospect of employment as an experience to cherish.

So where do organisations go wrong in scripting job descriptions? The US-based business magazine Inc. published an article last week outlining that a recruiter can easily be mistaken as a passive non-committal entity through a job description.  Scripting a job description requires a great deal of thinking and restraint that a recruiter often fails to exercise. This leads a job description to sound like an activity list rather than an earnest invitation to consider and apply.

Here are five common mistakes to avoid while scripting job descriptions.

We are looking to hire robots

The first point where a job description can start to sound passive is through non-committal phrases such as “the candidate should possess.”  As experts argue a job description can introduce the human element through a simple rephrase from “the candidate” to “you.” Introducing the human element can work wonders in how a prospect views a job.

More detail means more exciting

Most recruiters are tempted to include every single detail leading to an exceedingly long and overwhelming job description.  On most occasions, including too much detail can prove to be counter-intuitive.

A superhuman is the best bet for this job

Understanding the difference between “desired” and “required” is very essential. While every recruiter desires the candidate to possess every skill available on the planet, it is important to exercise restraint and understand what is required of the job. The job description should reflect that.

The only thing more complicated is neural networks

Job descriptions that fail to provide clear, directive guidance around the application and selection process fail to attract attention.  Oftentimes, the job description presents the process as a set of complicated activities without definitive timelines. Clear guidance around the process of hiring in the job description can potentially get more eyeballs rolling.

This is the only job advertised anywhere at all

Oftentimes, a recruiter fails to acknowledge the fact that a job advertisement is really a competition in the talent arena and therefore, there is a great necessity to make a job description appear stimulating. A job description needs to have an inviting headline and needs to be written in a language that sounds exciting for a prospect to consider and apply.

So, are you a DRIFTer?

Creating the perfect output every single time in the highly complicated job environment may not be as impossible as it sounds

“Do it right the first time” or DRIFT is a concept that got introduced into the business lexicon from the manufacturing industry in the 1980s.  The concept refers to setting up processes and systems in such a way that the distribution receives goods from production just once but without errors.

Psychologists and visionaries have closely looked at the theory to understand ways by which an individual can implement this to their daily work. John Wooden a Hall of Fame basketball player and coach famously quoted, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

DRIFT can potentially reduce the cost of production by eliminating the need for carrying excessive inventory or the need to manage customer returns. The concept is simple—whatever comes into production has zero probability of error. In other words, whatever, goes out of the assembly line is done right the first time.

Time and motion experiments reveal that the cumulative time required for executing projects by applying DRIFT principles are much lower compared to conventional techniques.  It is not hard to imagine how life becomes easier for someone who develops the aptitude to do things right at the first go. A professional who churns around the perfect output time and again enjoys greater confidence and trust among managers and colleagues. He or she is better able to manage time and is more engaged with his or her work.

The cost of rework includes not just additional time and effort but also the risk of losing brand equity.  So how does one apply the principle of DRIFT to their daily work? Experts recommend that an individual needs to shed some conventional mind-sets in order to become a DRIFTer.

I do not have time to think about it

As an intensive and highly technical quality control exercise, DRIFT needs significant investment of time and effort to put together systems, processes, and controls to ensure zero error output at the first go.  Individuals and organizations often fail to see that though it involves investing time initially, the returns are high and long-lasting.  The starting point of becoming a DRIFTer is by shedding the barrier of reluctance.

DRIFT does not apply to my job

While a manufacturing concept, the concepts of DRIFT can be applied to every job, every role, and every industry. Research indicates that the most common uses of DRIFT principles outside the manufacturing industry are among professionals in the software, home improvement, and auto repair industry.  There is no evidence to suggest that the concept does not apply to other industries.

I need to employ a consultant

No one knows your job or how you work better than you! It is extremely important for a professional to break down his job into activities and map them to his or her potential failure points.  While the job activity breakdown for two professionals in the same role might look fairly similar, the failure points are really dependant on the individual’s work strengths and weaknesses and therefore unique.

It CAN be done right the first time

No self-improvement plan can work out perfectly the first time, and neither will DRIFT. Unless one works in an assembly line with a fixed set of activities and output expectations, one needs to be persistent with his efforts to find out better ways of doing things right.

The globally renowned author and management thinker Atul Gawande argues that every professional can develop the capability to do things with “no-error” efficiency. Gawande recommends a simple tactical starting point in one’s efforts to become DRIFT compliant— a checklist!

13 ways for an HR professional to get a promotion in 2013

As most agree, 2013 will be a year of transformation for HR professionals across all sectors. Accordingly, the year will present significant opportunities to explore new career horizons and secure an ever-evasive promotion.Yes, only if the HR professional doesn’t lose focus from the things that matter.

Irrespective of it being the end of the financial year or not, the New Year beckons professionals to collectively engage in the largest annual enterprise exercise― the performance appraisal. And a promotion is the most sought after near-term target for a professional for various reasons.

A 2011 global workforce study by the Corporate Leadership Council on workforce expectations reveals that employees in India and China have the lowest average time spent in a role before expecting a promotion. While the global average is more than 3-4 years, the average time by which a professional in India and China expects a promotion is anywhere between 2-3 years.

Experts reveal that an aggressive professional expectation is one of the key reasons why the talent market in these economies is so volatile. With the market conditions opening up, a year without a promotion might seem like a source of dissatisfaction for many. Here are 13 ways by which one can stay on track in the promotion race this year.

#1― Maintain focus on the bigger picture. Progression in the career is not solely about the 10 or 12 development areas enlisted in the performance appraisal. Progress, in its holistic sense, is about employing professional skills for organizational impact. Impacting strategic focus areas of the enterprise will provide professional visibility. Experts believe that this will be a year where companies will be looking to increase global presence and increase talent management outcomes. Promotions will largely be driven by the ability of teams and individual to deliver them.

#2― Review and recalibrate. While professional choices are driven many times by factors that are different from personal aspirations, it is never too late to reflect and recalibrate. With the service sector in India expected to demonstrate fervent activity, it will pay to hop on the service sector bus and pursue non-traditional roles in HR service organizations, such as marketing and operations.

#3― Focus on leadership. Organizations across industries will face leadership crisis in the coming times and will likely boost efforts on developing succession plans and replacing leadership loss. Contribution in this terrain will likely increase chances of attaining higher visibility.

#4― Develop analytical capabilities. The role of HR analytics will continue to increase with the increase in business and talent management complexities. Professionals who are able to effectively leverage analytical capabilities will be much sought after by the enterprise.

#5― Focus on hiring quality. A 2012 survey by LinkedIn highlights the shift in hiring focus from hiring to hiring quality at scale. Hiring quality at scale is a complicated challenge. Most recruiting service companies reveal that recruiting cycles have increased 2-3 times as companies get more careful with hiring.As social hiring comes into prominence, the effectiveness of an HR professional will be determined by how effectively s/he is able to recruit quality talent through technology, social media, and other analytics-based tools.

#6― Create objective measures. HR is traditionally seen as a qualitative function, and HR professional are looked upon as lacking the ability to quantify business impact. Accordingly, HR professionals who are able to objectify business impact measures will be a much sought-after breed.

#7― Have a proactive view of macro-economic developments.With the large demand-supply gap for talent HR, which is traditionally seen as a reactive function, will be able to create a definitive impact on organizational strategy through a proactive view on macro-economic developments and their consequent impact on human capital management. An HR professional who speaks the language of market and organizational economics has a greater opportunity for organizational visibility.

#8― Get familiar with technology.With technology changing the nature of business, shaping delivery models, and providing opportunities for competitive advantage, technology averseness will not help the professional cause.  A tech-savvy HR professional will be considered an organizational and team asset.

#9― Gather best practices from experts.Progressive practices, as often seen, depend on how effectively one can gather collective wisdom. In this age of seamless connectivity, the ability to network and gather best practices for professional improvement will be a key differentiator between a successful and average HR practitioner.

#10― Build strong communication skills.With the increasing criticality of human capital, effectiveness of the function will be driven by how effectively the HR professional is able to communicate with colleagues, peers, leaders, the external talent pool, vendors, and other organizational stakeholders.  Developing strong communication capabilities often times can be the deal clincher for a promotion decision.

#11― Have a strategic business focus.A large number of business leaders reflect that the biggest gap they face while dealing with HR is their lack of strategic focus. While business leadership expects HR to have a strategic focus, the HR professional is often seen spending a disproportionate amount of time in tactical activities, including recruiting.An HR professional who is able to bridge this gap has better chances of stealing the spotlight during the annual appraisal.

#12― Find ways to reuse, recycle, and reduce. Astrong focus on costhelps drive stakeholder confidence.  The HR professional who is able to demonstrate intent to reuse, recycle, and reduce costs will find it easier to gather confidence with the leadership.

#13― Become an HR entrepreneur. A successful entrepreneur is one who is able to take ownership of his role and links personal effectiveness with organizational performance. The HR professional who can impact organizational performance will likely have higher chances of success.