Women can’t have it all, so can’t men

Photo source: http://www.imigion.com

Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi’s famous quote at the Aspen Ideas Festival has caused a lot of stir. Mostly among feminists and journalists. Nooyi says that women pretend that they have it all but it’s not the truth. “Every day,” she says, “a woman needs to make a choice between whether she wants to be a wife or a mother at least once.” On the other hand, Kim Kardashian who many term as the poster girl of first world frivolity “begs to differ.” Kardashian says that her mother taught her that women can have it all if they prioritise right. Feminists and social mercenaries were quick to jump and dismiss Kardashian’s point of view. After all, “how could a world famous celebrity with a legion of staff to take care of childcare, career, and husband’s untameable ego know about the truth in the ground?”

As much as one may hate to admit it, Kardashian does have a point. A deep one too!

The world’s cruel, yes

Women undergo the biological event of child-birth and subsequent motherhood which causes them to take a break from their corporate careers. Women start out with peers from business schools in a corporate career, the top percentile get ahead of the race while the others are still at par with their male peers. There is, of course, the 25-40 age window where most women take a break from their corporate careers mostly because of motherhood obligations. Irrespective of what stage a woman is with her corporate career, the feminist lobby argues that she comes in with the disadvantage of starting behind her peers and loses the motivation to carry on. Even if the woman gathers enough motivation to join another corporate job, she finds out that her male peers have moved ahead and she has to catch up.

At work, the woman is worried about her child/children and the health of the family. She faces prejudice from her bosses because of the perceptions that a woman cannot stay back for late hours, and there is always the risk of another career break with a new pregnancy. Many corporate women complain that they were unfairly overlooked by their bosses for a well-deserved promotion because of gender bias. As a result of all that, a woman’s CV looks less prolific than a man’s. There are fewer women in leadership positions in the corporate world than men. All of the above is true. And all relevant. But is that how we really measure success?

Corporate success does not equate absolute success

All the issues listed above are true for the modern corporate woman. The truth is, corporate success and success in absolute terms are two different things. Would you call the “douchebag CTO of the global service firm who cannot tell a scone from a macaroon and talks like a jerk” a successful person? Does the word “CTO” negate the words “douchebag” and “jerk”? I guess not! In absolute terms, this guy has been unsuccessful in becoming an all-rounder. He is highly unsuccessful. In fact, in absolute terms chances are, more people will end up calling him a “loser with a capital L.”

Measure success on absolute value, not bell-curve placement

Why does no one talk about absolute value? Giving birth and nurturing a child in absolute terms is progressively more valuable than growing older and less valuable as a social and economic entity. After an individual is past her/his prime, the capacity of the individual to generate value diminishes. True, the individual may continue to earn more based on his experience. But s/he will progressively have lesser and lesser energy for family and friends, and lesser capability to remain “an interesting person.” Not to mention, beauty and pleasing looks will fade away too. The absolute value of the individual goes down. The only way to continue being valuable is to nurture a progressively valuable entity. A child is a great bet!

One’s placement in your organisation’s bell curve may not be in the lead area, but that’s really not a measure of somebody’s worth, right?

Men can’t have it all either

Once someone’s measurement standards are truly elevated to absolute terms, it is possible to acknowledge that men can’t have it all either. For a man, not succeeding is not an option. A man is born with the expectations to lead, to be faster, better, swifter than the rest.

While a man is busy attending to the world’s expectations, he fails to invest in overall well-being. He stops developing a personality, stops doing things that interested him once, and invests as much time as he can to vegetate and regain lost mind space. Being taught all life to have things under absolute and unequivocal control, to be on top is of the game now and always, men cannot afford to just float if they have to lead “a worthy life.”
Read about hikikomori in Japan. It’s the growing trend among men in Japan unable to cope with the society’s expectations around them to ultimately withdraw to a vegetative state. It’s a miserable life to lead. It’s not just a phenomenon in Japan. Men all around the world face the same burden and will continue to. We don’t need WHO statistics to tell us that significantly more men die of stress-related disease than women. Simply put, men have it tough too!

Kardashian may just be right

Prioritisation is an unfailing answer to the question, “What is success and how do you measure it?” I hope there will come a time when the world becomes more rational and measures people in absolute terms than their economic worth. Until then, there is one thing someone can always do. Just find out what one enjoys doing, prioritise that over everything else, and invest in overall welfare. As my 20 year old cousin puts it, “YOLO.” (If you didn’t get that, it’s possible that you’re past your prime)


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.

Five self-discipline principles of meeting management

Convenor and participants of a meeting should exercise five self-disciple rules to ensure that the investment of time bears desired outcomes

Modern day complexities of conducting business have increased the reliance on active collaboration between executives and teams.  The need for active collaboration has consequently increased the reliance on meetings. Any professional’s typical working day is characterised by a mix of individual desk activities and collaborative mind-sharing through meetings.

While meetings have become a part and parcel of our professional lives, there is also no denying the fact that they’re not a favourite among most professionals. Besides considering meetings as one of the biggest impediments to employee productivity, many workforce surveys conducted by firms such as Hewitt, Mercer and the Corporate Leadership council across the years reveal that employees across the globe feel that meetings are a waste of time. Robert Half, a recruitment consulting firm, conducted a global survey in 2009 on the workforce’s perceptions about meetings. The results reveal that the key reason why employees feel that meetings are a waste of time is because participants lose focus and discuss anything they want, rather than the issue the meeting was called for.

Research indicates that in order to make meetings count, there are five self-discipline principles that the convenor and participants of a meeting should abide by, to ensure that meetings are productive and the investment of time bears desired results.

Script a well-defined agenda

Most participants in workforce surveys, who have complained about meetings being ineffective, note that the most common cause of meetings falling off track is the lack of a defined meeting agenda. The convenor holds accountability for clearly defining the agenda of a meeting, drilled down to the discussion points. Career consultant and prolific blogger Penelope Trunk, writer in her article that, “calling a meeting without a defined agenda is as good as not having one.”

Have realistic output expectations

Many convenors and participants enter a meeting room expecting a monumental shift in the business and operating environment.  Experts recommend that along with a clear definition of agenda, it is also necessary that the convenor and participants have a very clear understanding of what outputs are expected from the meeting. Having output expectations that are too aspirational may lead to unnecessary delays and stress. How often do we see people streaming out of meetings red-faced and flustered because the end-time stretched by hours? Craig Jarrow, author and business consultant, writes in his article, “meetings cost money and it is important to have clear output expectations before blocking a dozen of your senior managers in a room for 2 hours.”

Clearly communicate a start-time and end-time and stick to it

A meeting involves multiple participants who have different responsibilities, and widely-varied personal and professional preferences. It is unfair to expect that all meeting participants will be comfortable sparing the extra hour without upsetting his/her personal and professional obligations. It is the convenor’s responsibility to communicate a start and end-time to a meeting and assign a timekeeper.  An article published by the Human Resources magazine highlights the importance of communicating the start and end times so that the group is better prepared with their arguments and discussion points. Communicating the start and end times give participants a good sense of the time they invest in discussing every individual point of the agenda.

Ensure minimal distractions

A typical modern-day meeting is characterised by several participants taking phone calls and writing and responding to e-mails on their laptops. These distract other participants and many lose focus. Jarrow mentions that as a rule, many organisations have started convening “topless meetings” where laptops are banned and a phone-bowl is placed at the meeting room door for participants to drop their phones while entering the meeting.

Document clearly

It is important to assign one designated participant to take meeting notes and circulate it among all the participants after the meeting concludes. The convenor should share the original plan and meeting agenda with the note-taker, and read and verify the minutes-of-the meeting before they’re sent out.

While there is no debating the importance of meetings in a modern-day business environment, they can quickly lose their value when the convenor and participants lose focus. While there are several factors that contribute to meeting discipline, it is important that both the convenor and participants have a clear idea of the agenda and prepare themselves in advance so that meetings do not spill over time, lose focus, or end up with outputs that are not aligned with the expectations of the group.

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

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!