Women can’t have it all, so can’t men

Your-way-of-success
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)

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‘HR needs a seat at the table’ and other annoying peeves

Lately, there has been a surge of people talking and writing about HR’s need to find a ‘seat at the table.’ For the uninitiated that means, HR’s too dumb to be of any consequence to a CEO. HR needs to fight its way to grab a CEO’s attention. Why is no one talking about ‘marketing’ needing to grab the seat? Or ‘finance’? Not cool.

Keep the following in mind and stop worrying about the seat.

HR’s too big-ass for the seat
The business runs on people. Marketing runs on people. Finance runs on people. And HR manages people. It’s pervasive. Without anybody managing the human resources of the enterprise, everything crumbles. No questions on that. Trying to fit something that big into one seat is just too much effort. The CEO gets that. At least if s/he is smart!

No, HR’s not shutting down
Lately, many are saying that HR departments will likely shut down because they tend to be too administrative and have no business focus. ‘Average’ is not an HR problem. ‘Average’ is unacceptable anywhere. Be exceptional and no one will dare touch you.

Hire exceptional to appear exceptional
Do not settle for ‘average’ to meet goal sheets. Always aim for the exceptional. Make efforts to hire the right people even if it takes three times longer. Don’t take the easy way out. Every hiring should be imaginative and inventive. Just put some deep thinking. People will thank you.

Customise, customise, customise- train right
The needs of every new hire and every batch is different. Don’t take the easy way out and make ‘standards’ a way of life. Customise, customise, customise. Make the ‘orientation module’ and ‘training 203’ your biggest enemies.

The next time, no one talks to you about the seat. Remember it’s you who makes the seating arrangement.

The three mistakes of my professional life

Picture source: OnlyOneDrop

Picture source: OnlyOneDrop

We work hard to avoid problems at work. We aim to respond to all important mails, deliver on deadlines, make clients happy, and avoid any conflict with the manager or a colleague. But no matter how hard we try, inventive problems emerge every time from quarters where we least expect and cause havoc in our lives in ways which we are least prepared for. There will never be a period in our professional (or personal) life where we haven’t made a slip or two. Sometimes its bad luck, and on other times it’s a small innocuous detail which we were lazy to ignore at the beginning. If I start taking stock of all the small and big mistakes that I’ve made across the course of my professional life, I’d end up with a number large enough to hide my embarrassed face in the sand until it gets dark outside. But every time I’ve made a mistake-small or big- I’ve grown wiser. I can unequivocally claim that I am a more mature professional than what I was, a hundred mistakes earlier.

Here are three great mistakes I committed in my professional life and what I learnt from them. (I call them great because, they give me the confidence to claim that I am a better professional now.)

Forgetting to put my out-of-office— It was just a small vacation and I remembered at the airport that I had forgotten to put my out-of-office auto reply on. I told myself that I had responded to everyone and had set all my business in order before I left. Hence, any new e-mail would be new business. New business can surely wait for a couple of days. I was wrong. Not only did I lose out on opportunities, my confidence that I had everything covered before the vacation was shaken. I did miss out a couple of important ones in all the excitement of a long-awaited break. Result was a catastrophic first day back at work followed by a frustrated FB status message, “I wish the vacation was never over.”

What I do now: I put my OoO the moment I remember it, even if it is a month before the vacation. I schedule it for the period I will be out for the vacation. I am now 100 per cent OoO compliant.

Not editing an important e-mail— It’s good to be confident about one’s writing skills. But not putting the effort to edit is just not acceptable. Almost immediately after writing something which I am proud of, I can identify several areas of improvement when I read it. The more time I spend editing, the better it gets. While there is no end to how much one can edit, sending an important e-mail out without editing is a sin. The value gets dissipated by half if there are structural issues or incoherent arguments, and by another quarter if there are grammatical errors. (c’mon don’t tell me you don’t judge people who write bad sentences).

What I do now: I quickly put myself in the shoes of the person reading my e-mails and read it top to bottom to see if it makes sense. Spotting grammar errors is a function of practice, and I keep improving every time. Now, at times I even edit informal e-mails; getting it right is better that getting it wrong, isn’t it?

Too lazy to wear many hats— This is a classic case. I consider myself a focused professional. When I am working on something, I find it very difficult to do something else in the middle of it even if it is urgent. I dread these words from any colleague, “it will only take five minutes of your time.” I keep telling myself, “this is not what I had planned for.” And though I know that what my colleague has asked for is important, I will tend to resist it. And my colleague will wonder why I am acting difficult for something so easy. Many times, we resist doing something new because it required us to think differently. It breaks our inertia. And we are all driven by inertia.

What I do now: Whenever I receive any task that threatens to break my current inertia, I ask myself one question, “is this urgent and important?” If the answer is anything but a “Yes,” I will find a great way to reason with my colleague and tell her/him when I would do it and why it’s not necessary to do it right away. I do not frown or grumble or make “that face” anymore.

Problems at work will never cease to exist, if you’ve had a perfect day at work with nothing going wrong, it is probable that you’ve not done anything important.

The 5 essential career investments

One views career investments in many ways. Some consider learning new skills as a career investment, some get certified, and some change jobs. In this day and age where upskilling opportunities are plentiful but jobs and raises are scarce, everyone is thinking about measures that can help the next leap in their careers. I am not a big fan of certifications and paper degrees. Nothing wrong with them, seriously! Certifications are great, but when it comes to actual crisis at work, it’s a person’s instincts and natural flair that come into play more than knowledge from certification courses.

How can a person build his instincts and natural predisposition to solve higher order work problems? I believe that there is no quick fix way to build a professional personality. Personality is a sum total of an individual’s experiences. Conventional certifications and job switches may not contribute much to that. So what are those unconventional investments one should seek to make her/him ready for any crisis? The following are my top five.

Keep modifying your CV— No, the intent of one’s CV is not just finding another job. A CV is a reflection of an individual’s worth, years of hard work culminating into a document- a CV is what shows the true worth of an individual’s employability. How many times have we come across people who claim that their job is so unique that there is no other job in the world that can match their current role? Well, their problem is not unique. No two jobs in the world are the same. If you cannot explain what you do to someone in 10 seconds, then your CV is not good enough. Invest time in building the CV and keep thinking about the question that your visiting aunt might ask at the dinner table, “So what do you do?” Keep building your CV, modifying it, adding new things, deleting the unnecessary details. It is an ongoing process. Even when you’re not looking for a job.

Invest in reminding yourself of your true worth— While it is perfectly ok to throw numbers and contact lists at others, it’s pointless to justify your inflated worth to yourself. Be true to yourself, you’ll need it. Especially when you’re outside of your professional circle. Inflated egos rarely draw awe, they draw yawns. Seriously! Try and spend time every day remembering what you are truly are, and be aware of your limitations too. And I mean, every day.

Invest in your physical self— I don’t necessarily mean, build your biceps. Staying healthy is about staying physically agile and energetic. I’ve seen too many people with the excuse, “I just don’t have the time to hit the gym.” Who told you that the gym is the only path to physical salvation? Climb stairs, run from your office to your car at the parking, sit upright in your workstation, drink loads of water, and don’t be so weak so as to be unable to resist snacking temptations. Whenever you justify your inability to stay healthy, remember “YOU ARE A LIAR!!!”

Read something intellectually stimulating— I’ve heard this one several times too, “I’m already doing mental stuff all through the day, I just don’t have any more bandwidth to read something serious. I can only read tabloid crap.” Once again, “DO NOT TRY AND JUSTIFY YOUR LAZY SELF.” If you don’t have the bandwidth, build it. It’s just a first mile problem. Once you cover it, there is no stopping. Try it!

Build your zone— The zone is something beautiful, something totally random inside your head. Build a zone where you can escape to whenever you are faced with pressure and stress. The zone should be perfect. You should be the superwoman/superman in that zone and you control everything. And you could do anything, literally! Let it rather be something pleasant than violent. It builds character.

Always remember, the most important career investment that you make is the one that syncs your heart and mind.

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.

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.