Create a magnum opus- every time

While passion and emotion may seem conflicting, it is only when the two come together that creates a work of genius

“I want to build a car for the multitude” Henry Ford proclaimed, “that is so low in price that every man will be able to afford one.” Hailed as the man who taught America how to drive, Ford’s vision was one driven by an emotion, sparking a new modern industrial revolution.  At a time when an automobile was an expensive toy available only to the super rich, Ford wanted one for the common man. For him, there was no reason why every man cannot have a car. With this vision in mind, he founded the Ford Motor company at the beginning of the 20th century. The rest is history.  Ford is fondly remembered for several legendary statements he made during his life time. Among them, one sticks out― “A car looks good in any colour,” Ford said, “so long as it is black.” People who worked directly with Ford remembered him as a man whose love for automobiles was so great, that it superseded every other desire he had. While Ford wanted to build a car for the common man, he was not prepared to compromise on its quality in any department, including the way it looked.  Ford’s statements exemplify two central ingredients of perfection-emotion and passion.

Emotion + passion equals perfection

Emotion drives a behavioural change. It is a conscious reaction to act on the strong desire to serve a customer in the best possible way. Passion, on the other hand, is singlehanded devotion toward perfecting a product, even independent of convention and market demand. Oftentimes, products or ideas driven by emotion have the best functionality, but end up looking unimpressive. On the other hand, products built only with passion become prohibitively expensive or miss the mark completely. It is when emotion and passion merge that we truly see a product so remarkable that it alters paradigms.

Apple is an interesting case in point. Apple’s legacy of product perfection was not an outcome of a fleeting idea by a genius inventor. Very little is spoken about Steve Jobs’ skill as a qualified calligraphist. His biography reveals his love for fonts so great that he dedicated a considerable part of his life to the study and practice of the subject. As a result, Apple’s legacy of innovative design, sleek form factor, and simple interfaces have continued to set new industry standards. Not only do Apple products signify Job’s passion for design, they scream of the man’s emotional vision to provide customers with a product which is easy to experience.

Don’t let passion override emotion, or vice versa

Reebok released a print advertisement in 2012 that said, “Cheat on your girlfriend, not your workout.” Such brand disasters are qualified by Twiteratti as an #Epicfail. While it raised indignant eyebrows, the advertisement made it to Huffington Post’s list of “top 10 advertising disasters for women” in no time. One can sit back and wonder what level of arrogance the creative team must have possessed to conceive and execute such a derisive idea. The execution was flawless. It did not lack wit. And yet, the creator was so possessed with his passion for the product that s/he failed to consider the basic question, “will the consumer like it?” Clearly on this occasion, it did not. After it was widely condoned by social media globally, Reebok had to make a scamper for face-saving tactics. The ads were pulled down and every trace of them vaporised in a jiffy.

The automobile world is rife with several examples of highly functional cars with hideous designs. The creators of these cars were driven by the myopic emotional drive for customer comfort, while grossly overlooking the basic need for making a good looking car. Porsche or Cadillac, Chrysler or Buick, every car brand has made it to lists of ugly-looking cars. Where was the passion for creating a magnum opus when Porsche built the Panamera in 2010 or when Austin built the Allegro in 1973?

What drives us to work every day? Is it the passion to create a work of genius? Or is it the drive to make a customer happy? It may not be necessary to view emotion and passion as an everyday conflict. Maybe a good thought to ponder before the start of every day could be, “Is genius of any use without utility?”

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The Cyborg HR manager

Hasta la vista

Photo courtesy: Cinema Nation

Photo courtesy: Cinema Nation


Very recently, Virgin Airways, successfully completed a two-week on-field trial of Google Glass. If you are a first class passenger in Virgin, you’d be warmly received by a “glass-ed” hostess who’d literally know all about you, even pre-empt and address those considerations that could make your travel experience truly memorable. Business analysts tout this as the next big thing in customer relationship management. Futuristic technologies are rapidly making inroads into the way business processes are managed and executed, promising to improve them over time. These promises are grounded on validations which unmistakably and unequivocally serve as proofs-of-concept that data and efficiency are the only true measures of business success in the coming times.

The Google Glass example seeds the thought that there is no end in sight on the overlay of analytic strata that one can introduce to improve transactions. At present, an HR manager already has several tools at her/his disposal to make deep analytic conclusions about individuals and the workforce. Data on an employee’s web behavior can provide invaluable insights about several talent metrics, such as engagement, productivity, and integrity. Imagine pivoting this information with organisational events or stages of employment to arrive at conclusions about the employee’s time of quitting. Adding another layer, if this information could be mapped to the internal and external talent database of the organisation to find the best replacement. An HR manager of the future could be talking about metrics on the lines of “potential replacements for probable departures.”

One cannot help but draw parallels of the future talent manager with the “T 800” cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator movies. At several points, the movies provide glimpses of the cyborg’s view of ambient human presence— a piercing peek into a cold alternate reality. The image of a “glass-ed” HR manager looking at an employee as a set of data points suddenly appears like a distinct possibility. Many skeptics predict that the disciple of HR management will face an imminent but slow death in the future. The foundations of HR are not rooted as much in the execution of processes as they are in the fundamentals of good relationships. For good or for the worse, HR technologies are looking to shake this very foundation of HR. While this may mean efficient administration, robust business preparedness, and precision execution, it does raise questions on what it means for the deeper and often unpredictable fundamentals of human behavior— a layer that any analytic model cannot possibly hope to penetrate— of unpredictability, intuition, and impulse— of emotion. Until human emotion continues to hold the embargo rights in business decisions, organisations and employees can take comfort in the fact that HR and talent management systems will continue to have the enviable capability to self-correct. Until the time man and machine cohabit, the possibilities of the future not only sound aspirational— they sound exciting. It is important to know and prepare for these exciting opportunities that the future of HR technology presents.

Talent brand vs consumer brand

Many use the terms employer brand and talent brand interchangeably. It is inherently assumed that whatever the organisation wants to highlight about itself as an employer will be perceived likewise in the talent market. The reality remains far detached from perceptions. Social media has made it evident that perceptions of a workplace viewed from the rose-tinted glasses of an organisation’s senior management is different from actual perceptions that exist on the ground. Thus emerges a new management paradigm for an organisation- the talent brand.

It is important to note the differences between an organisation’s employer brand and talent brand. An organisation’s employer brand is a skilfully crafted message conveying how the organisation views itself as an employer. The employer brand typically includes positive messaging about its work culture, its commitment to employee welfare, and the benefits of working with the organisation. While the employer brand is an aspirational appeal to the market, a talent brand is the actual perception about an organisation from the point of view of its employees. While an employer brand can be idealistic and controllable, an organisation’s talent brand is grounded in facts and resides mostly outside the realms of direct organisational control. A preferred employer is one which is able to close the gap between the employer brand and the talent brand.

Employee as the consumer

From a marketing lens, branding is an exercise to enhance the reputation of a company’ products and services. As social media has increased the number of degrees of freedom for a consumer, the challenge of managing perceptions has steadily grown more complex. While social media continues to penetrate a wider base of consumers, a brand manager strives to convert challenges into opportunities. A brand no longer relies solely on the projection of a positive image but also depends on the management of perceptions. With growing number of complexities, organisations have started to realise that a branding strategy has to couple external messaging with perception management. The principles of branding for consumer brand, therefore, applies equally to the talent brand.
HR’s role in the organisation is consequently evolving into a brand and marketing role where the rules of the consumer market apply equally to the talent market. For an organisation’s HR, it is not difficult to predict that a Glassdoor rating will be as much an indicator of talent management effectiveness as hiring and attrition. This calls for a radical shift in the way HR views an employee – to that of a consumer.

Talent brand- a CEO’s agenda

Across the globe, growth continues to be the golden word for any leadership team. As tough economic conditions continue to prevail, leaders worry about how to sustain a profitable business. Business leaders argue that given these economic conditions, the only way to fuel growth is to get the right people on board and ensure that they are happy. When someone asks the question, ‘what is it about companies that continue to grow despite these tough conditions?’ CEOs unanimously agree that it is talent within these companies that propel growth and profitability. It would be fair to say that the only real engine of growth in such conditions is to have the right set of people on board.

Several compelling reasons exist as to why companies and HR need to redefine their focus on talent branding for sustenance in the future. Among them, the most important reason for growth is the need for innovation. The absence of innovation has seen several exceptional brands meet their demise in an age when the competitive landscape has become a pervasive threat. Several noteworthy brands have perished due to lack of innovation. Research in Motion and Kodak are classic examples of consumer brands which enjoyed high equity but succumbed very quickly to competitive pressures. While their competitors were sharpening their axe by building a strong base of innovators within the company, they failed to foresee the future by basking in the equity of their current consumer brand. Over time, newer and better products emerged in the consumer market and both the brands continue to shrink to this day. Both these industries, in fact, have seen the emergence of strong talent empires that are threatening to polarise the entire talent market in their respective segments globally.

Martin Seligman, an American psychologist’s seminal work on organisational psychology discussed the concept of positive psychology. Positive psychology is an organisation’s investment in happiness, human flourishing, exceptional wellbeing, energy and vitality, and meaningfulness and achievement. While most CEOs and talent heads talk about it, the real test of an organisation’s commitment to positive wellbeing is in the times of crisis. Are CEOs in Indian corporations really committed toward employee wellbeing? The leading management consulting firm McKinsey Corporation in a recent research study argues, “The vast majority of companies still gauge their performance using systems that measure internal financial results —systems based on metrics that don’t take sufficient notice of the real engines of wealth creation today: the knowledge, relationships, reputations, and other intangibles created by talented people and represented by investments in such activities as R&D, marketing, and training.”

Tough times reveal the real cracks in a company’s resource plans. Companies with strong talent brands are more prepared now for economic uncertainties of the future. Data from Fortune magazine’s top 100 best places to work companies in the last 10 years have consistently demonstrated a near 10 per cent difference in year-over-year growth than the market average despite these low-growth economic conditions. The renowned business author, Noelle Nelson, in his book ‘Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy,’ quotes from the findings of a global employee survey which says that companies that effectively appreciate employee value enjoy a return on equity and assets more than triple that experienced firms enjoy. Is it possibly what differentiates an iconic brand from the rest?

Talent empires- the inevitability

As companies continue to face the consequence of economic corrections, the ability of an organisation to acquire and retain talent will be the single-most factor separating brands that exist and the ones that perish. Some progressive talent brands have already prepared their war strategy for the coming times. What makes some of the smartest talent across the globe flock to a Facebook, Pepsico, or Google brand? Is it their choice drive by the consumer brand or have these brands successfully created a strong perception as employers? Southwest Airlines is a typical example of a brand where employee live and breathe the brand. In the tough and competitive low-cost airline market, its talent brand is a strong driver of its product brand.

While companies brace themselves for the future, it will be only fair to say that a company which enjoys a strong talent brand will be able to attract talent from a larger global talent pool and make them stay longer. The linear correlation between growth and talent will never cease and thus, a company’s market share will be strongly linked to its talent market share. Such radical polarisation of preferences will likely lead to the creation of talent empires. While it is up for argument on whether the establishment of these talent empires is a step in the right direction for the global economy, one thing is certain— talent will be the bigger war field for business corporations compared to the consumer brand. At the centre of the war will be the CEO who will likely lead the aggression against its talent competitors, and will be a living proponent of the company’s employment values. Perhaps it would not be too farfetched to imagine the future CEO holding the talent brand and leading the aggression for talent market share.

Abolish myths that stifle innovators

Becoming an innovation-centric organization is about targeting key behaviors that help a person introduce game-changing ideas to the enterprise.

Driving innovation, or the symbiotic relationship between people, processes, and technology continues to remain a challenge for organizations. Exemplar organizations that have built a reputation for innovation have shown the world that a culture of innovation is not driven as much by an annual business agenda as much as it is by a change in the enterprise mindset. While all aspire to be leading-edge innovators, few know how to get there. Managing the symbiosis between the three is about targeting the key behaviors that drive a culture of innovation with the enterprise.

Steve Jobs, once commented, “there is always change and improvement, this is life in the technology game.” China Gorman, CEO of CMG Group reflects that nothing can be more apt lesson for the HR fraternity than Steve Job’s vision of the innovative mindset. The innovative mindset is one that applies cognitive skills for the creation of a hot new product. Sue Marks, Founder and CEO, of Pinstripe Inc. highlights five cognitive skills that an innovator possesses― associations, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.

In order to recognize and foster innovation skills, it is important to abolish five behavioral myths that organizations traditionally possess.

Myth #1― Innovation is an individual effort

Innovative organizations reveal that all innovations need not be the genius of an individual mind. An organization that provides opportunities to crowd-source ideas achieves sizeable ROI from innovation efforts. HCL, an IT services company, has an online innovation forum where individuals and groups can post innovative ideas. The forum is a place where innovation ideas are reviewed and ranked and the organization ensures sponsorship and support to see a winning idea through to its completion. Across the years, the organization has seen a significant rise in the number of process-level and small-incremental innovations through the crowd-sourcing model.

Myth #2― Discovery is the sole backbone of innovation

There are two types of people in an enterprise who drive innovation― discovery-driven people and delivery-driven people. Organizations rely too heavily on discovery-driven people often failing to recognize important delivery innovations. Any innovation that can make a delivery process shorter and more efficient without incurring incremental cost needs to be recognized and rewarded. Sue Marks highlights that small and incremental delivery innovations are more impactful and permanent than large discovery innovations.

Myth #3― The organization role stops at encouragement

 While organizations continue to try and foster a culture of innovation, most remark that despite best efforts, their best hope is to wait until someone comes up with a bright idea. Progressive organizations pull forward innovations by providing experiences that push people to innovate. Schlumberger is an example of a company where every employee is a potential innovator.  The way Schlumberger achieves this is by providing stretch roles to every employee at various stages of the employment experience that ingrains innovation in the employees’ DNA.

Myth #4― Failure is fatal

Fear of failure is one of the one of the key inhibitors of innovation. For an organization to truly commit to a culture of innovation is by ‘celebrating failures.’ R. Gopalakrishnan, Director of Tata Sons holding company highlights that celebrating failures is their way of encouraging innovation across the company. The company rewards innovative project failures at their formal annual banquet by awarding the three best unsuccessful innovations in the company. In two years, the company witnessed a steep rise in people applying for innovative ideas from 12 to 200. No other effort to encourage innovation in the company has seen such a steep rise in numbers.

While companies continue to find more ways to drive innovation, it has to recognize that abolishing conventional myths will help them create a culture of innovation that is impactful as well as sustainable.