What kind of a talent entrepreneur are you?

Entrepreneurs inspire people. After referring to several research studies, I came up with a list of five leading types of talent leadership approaches that entrepreneurs have. Answer the five questions in the following toolkit and quickly learn what kind of a talent leader you are. No leadership style is perfect, and it is worthwhile to be self-aware! Remember, there are no two choices. Select only one answer from every question.

Q. What best describes your talent leadership style?
A. I motivate people to come up with a new idea or improving an existing idea
B. I look to identify key talent inside the company who can take the business forward
C. I always inspire everyone to think and love our purpose and goals
D. I continuously push people to question how we do things
E. I continuously inspire people to understand what the customer wants

Q. What is the primary thing you look for among leaders in your organisation?
A. I seek leaders who can conceive and execute new ideas
B. I seek leaders who can keep up spirits and inspire high energy
C. I seek the crazy ones who are just as driven as I am to follow through on an idea
D. I look for leaders who can show me the pros and cons of every business decisions
E. I seek leaders who demonstrate commitment for customer needs

Q. What is the predominant personality trait you seek in the talent in your company?
A. The ability to find opportunity and build new ideas
B. The knack to motivate and energise people around them
C. The drive to achieve and execute to perfection
D. The aptitude to find their own answers
E. The capability to adapt

Q. What would be your first reaction when someone in your organisation faces failure?
A. I will reiterate the goals and purpose of the company to her/him
B. I will inspire her/him to lift up and move on with new challenges
C. I will express my disappointment without mixing my words
D. I will ask her/him to ponder over what went wrong and leave it to her/him to improve
E. I will assess if I placed her/him in the right place and make changes if needed

Q. What is the top impact you’d like your enterprise’s goal and purpose to have on employees?
A. Inspire them to constantly think about how to improve and upgrade the market
B. Become the source of what drives them to work everyday
C. Inspires them toward a single-sighted drive to achieve
D. Influence their thought process and help them rationalise what they do
E. Instil customer-centricity in everything they do

Calculate your total score. If you score-
3 or more As- You are a visionary. You inspire people to look for new ideas. But be aware, visionaries sometimes lose touch with reality because it is always the dream that is more important.

3 or more Bs- You are an energiser. Your leadership inspires energy and your workplace reflects one which is vibrant and collaborative. Tread with caution, though. Do not create a culture of over-commitment.

3 or more Cs- You are a driver of passion. Steve Jobs was one too. But yes, there is enough literature on how passion often over-rides good nature. A little empathy would be nice. Finding and retaining good people in this competitive market have become a tad tougher.

3 or more Ds- You are analytical. While you can be trusted to be a fair leader, everyone knows about analysis paralysis. Do learn to trust instincts, and more importantly- your people.

3 or more Es- You are an improviser. You are a flexible leader who listens to people and customers. But in the effort of being customer-centric, do not overlook the needs of your staff. Are they overstretched? Are you building capability to meet higher-level demands before you expect your staff to deliver?


How to become a good coach

Three essential qualities make for a great coach, and leaders can develop all of them through self-training

Among all the leadership development techniques, coaching is an area which many consider vague and ambiguous. While organisations have realised the importance of coaching, the traditional approach of sending leaders to coaching training is proving ineffective. It is true that coaching training enlightens a leader to some key elements of effectiveness, such as listening, building a solution-oriented approach, and feedback mechanisms. But it is difficult to capture the true essence of coaching through coaching sessions.

For a leader, coaching is an integral element of building credibility. It is also true that not all great leaders can be good coaches. Douglas Riddle, Global Director of Coaching Services, at the Centre of Creative Leadership (CCL) recommends a three-point framework for building self-efficacy.

Curiosity– A key and essential element of good coaches is their curiosity and inquisitiveness towards problems. A good coach does not believe in stereotypes and believes that every problem and situation is unique. Consequently, good coaches develop the patience to listen to people’s issues before jumping into solutions.

Presence– A good coach is always present in a conversation. Very often, senior leaders offer solutions to problems because multiple priorities are fighting for their time. Consequently, they lose their ability to really understand perspectives of people who are speaking to them. They also lose their ability to be really present in a conversation, and pay only a fraction of their attention of what is being said. Good coaches, on the other hand, are always present. Many Heads of States and Presidents are regarded as great inspiration as leaders, though they have a multitude of priorities competing for their time. Riddle once had the opportunity of attending a wedding in a park where the President of the United States was passing through. The President generously walked into the wedding to pay his best to the couple. As he was walking out, he spent the next 10 minutes speaking to some of the people at the wedding who were keen. Riddle observed from a distance that despite his priorities as a President of the State, he conducted each small conversation, hearing people out with complete and undivided attention. In other words, in each conversation, no matter how short, the leader was in a state of ‘presence.’

Respect– A common trap that leaders fall into is the belief in the superiority of their own experiences. As a result, they lack the respect to really understand issues. Most of the solutions they offer are a consequence of their need to do something else with their time or purely because the issue does not interest them. An approach where the listener lacks interest in the issue at the first place cannot have fruitful conclusion because it lacks in the basic premise of respect. Respect is one of the most important constituents of a good coach.

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.

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.

No more long work hours

The German labour ministry’s ban on outside of work hours sends a strong signal to the global business community about making managers responsible for team inefficiencies

A news report on The Telegraph earlier this morning caught my attention, and indeed the attention of everyone I forwarded the link to. It says that the labour ministry of Germany has implemented a ban to out of hours working within German soil. The ban prevents managers to e-mail or call team members for any reason outside of working hours unless the manager can justify that there was a business-disruptive necessity. Viewed through any lens, the move can at the least be called “bold,” with many terming it with emphatic adjectives, such as “idiotic,” “stupendous,” and “audacious.” While the pro employee lobby globally has welcomed the news with loud cheers and excited hoots, many sceptics would term this move as “out-of-age” and “economically regressive.” Which lobby do I belong to? It doesn’t matter, does it?

A time to reflect

Last week’s human capital headlines were rife with the news about the death of Moritz Erhardt, an intern with the investment banking division of Bank of America. He was a 21 year old whose epileptic condition was amplified to fatal levels owing eight “all-nighters” in office. Post Erhardt’s tragic death, many news reports started emerging from several quarters and from all corners of the globe about how such “all-nighters” are a part and parcel of an investment banker’s professional existence. Many work secrets of the investment banking world have since emerged, including the most famous “magic roundabout.” The magic roundabout is a practice of sending an employee home in a taxi which waits until the person showers and gets fresh to be taken back to office immediately. Talent management experts and behavioural psychologists term these practices as “inhuman” and “counter-productive” both for an individual and for an organisation. While it is for time to tell how the legislation in Germany pans out on the ground for business corporations, it does provide a basis for employers to step back and evaluate if burning employees out is really the right way to go.

My gut says that any management practice that is detrimental to the well-being and happiness of an employee will come back to bite an employer in the long-term, though it may be profitable in the immediate-term. Detractors of the employee-rights lobby feel that in a hyper-competitive business environment, rigid work hours will take an economy back by several years, by restricting the ability of business entities to produce “more” economic value. But then again, it is a question of how one views “more.” Many believe that “more” in the short-term means “less” in the long-term. I thought about an analogy about the argument while driving to work this morning. When a car zipped past me on a bumpy road and jumped a red light, its driver was able to beat some traffic and gain more ground in less time. At the same time, he was incurring the economic cost of greater risk exposure, car depreciation, and higher fuel expenditure. These economic costs in the long-term will turn out to be much more expensive that his short-term objective of getting to his destination early. His luck with escaping dangerous accidents might run out, his car tyres may need to be replaced sooner, and his monthly fuel bill will be more than what one would usually incur for that distance.

An organisation with the reputation of long working hours is less likely to enjoy a superior employer brand image compared to one that does not. In the last 2 years, research studies from the WHO have emerged, revealing the health effects to the first generation globalised workforce that was exposed to 15-20 years of hyper-competitive business environment. Chronic diseases are now widespread ins this generation and some research studies even suggest that organisations stand to potentially lose up to 20% of their annual revenue through an ailing workforce. Added to that, if other factors such as disengagement and disloyalty are included, is that not too high a price to pay for any short-term gain?  

Empathy is the key

While there are no magic or gold-standard practices on how to improve engagement and the overall health of employees, having the empathy and respect for the time of co-workers can help a great deal to making workplaces more efficient. A manager who values time outside of work should empathize with the assumption that direct reports will not appreciate calls and e-mails during out of work hours. The onus of altering the working culture of an organisation lies greatly on the shoulders of managers and senior leaders. Here are two warning signs that any manager or senior leader should always look for in his/her team.

  1. Acknowledge the problem— Many managers consider after hours working as a sign of engagement and drive among team members, oftentimes ignoring that many employees stay back to “project” that image. There are two risks to an organisation that encourages a manager who compels his team to stay back in office after hours. First of all, team members will become disengaged or burn out in the long run. Second, professionals tend to adopt management styles of erstwhile managers and an organisation runs the risk of making more such monstrous future managers if they allow one to flourish. It is in the best interest of the senior leadership and management of an organisation to acknowledge it as a problem and make earnest efforts to resolve it. Many progressive companies have put together a process where an employee has to get a formal manager’s approval during any time when s/he has to stay back in office. Additionally, such managers are pulled up by the organisation’s HR and senior leadership if there is a rising trend of team members working outside office hours.
  2. Be on the watch for burnout— Oftentimes, in the drive for results, managers tend to turn a deaf ear to employee complaints and resistance about after office work hours or simply tend to ignore them. Subjecting team members to prolonged long hours and erratic status update schedules can burn them out. Before any after work call or e-mail, a manager should step back and ask, “can it not wait until tomorrow morning?”

Long-term business success depends on a number of factors, including the external business environment, the economic market conditions, and the evolution of demand. It is, therefore, important for an organisation to recognise the importance of having an engaged and healthy workforce where most of the outcomes are a result of discretionary effort and solicitous action. Without considerate leadership and management’s commitment to employee well-being, an organisation may soon realise that it’s on a path to a competitive abyss.

What’s greater- Cost of life or cost of reputation?

While corporate India waits for the air to clear around #Charudatta Deshpande’s death, the incident illuminates some questions that individuals or organisations are not comfortable asking themselves

Charudatta Deshpande headed communications and corporate affairs at Tata Steel until he quit the company in April. He was found dead in his house in suburban Mumbai last Friday, allegedly having committed suicide. Deshpande, who spent his career in some prominent organisations, is remembered by friends and colleagues as a calm and calculative individual, who was always in control of the situation. The rash decision to end his life, therefore, came as a shock for many.

Deshpande’s ex-colleague, Salil Tripathi, writes in LiveMint that he spent his last few weeks in constant stress that included dealing with fears of his phone being tapped, the ‘mafia’ following him, and the humiliation of being virtually trapped in Jamshedpur for a while. It is not uncommon to hear about employees complaining about stress at the workplace. Workplace surveys released across the last couple of months from analytics firms, such as Cigna, Harris Interactive, and ABS show that employee stress levels have increased significantly over the years since the last global financial crisis.

Several factors contribute to the growing incidence of stress at the workplace. Among them, some of the most common include manager quality, performance pressures, and inaccurate mapping of expectations and skills. While some of these problems are situational and apply only to employees with bad managers or being caught in the wrong job, the more alarming are the ones originating from conflict of interests between the organisation and the individual. The stress which originates from higher-order conflicts such as values and ethics is more impactful and can make manager and performance related stress appear trivial.

Some argue that Deshpande was a victim of pressure and intimidation from the Tata Steel management for having gained access to information that was potentially embarrassing for the organisation. Tripathi remembers Deshpande as a tough man who had extensive journalistic experiences covering crime, politics, and business, and was no newcomer to intimidation. The extreme step leads Tripathi to remark, “The shocking reports of his death suggest something far more sinister about the circumstances that led him to take this ultimate step.”

Another of Deshpande’s former colleagues, K Ramkumar, Executive Director of ICICI Bank, in a letter to Cyrus Mistry, Ratan Tata, and Krishna Kumar has expressed shock in the manner Tata Steel dealt with the situation and has requested a probe into the incident. Tata constituted a probe committee on July 3 to investigate if there was any role of the employer leading to Deshpande’s suicide. Many consider this move as eyewash because the individuals constituting the probe committee report to the Tata board, and anything that goes to the press will be vetted by the Board before release.

While the death of Deshpande cannot be undone, the episode brings to light, several questions that an employee encounters when s/he comes under similar fire. Some of these include- What should I do when I see my employer taking decisions that conflict with my personal values? Should I stay silent and move on to another job? What is the best way to express my displeasure to the management without sounding intimidating?

For the organisational management too, there are several questions they should have answers to when such situations arise. These include- Should we persuade an employee with a conflict of interest to accept our way? Is there any dignified way to sever the chord with an employee with a conflict of interest? While it has worked in the past, should we pressurise an employee to accept our way? And the most important of all, “Is the cost of bad reputation, greater than the life of the employee?”

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