About Mentors and Change

In various conversations – I usually get asked question that imply something like “how I got to where I am now”. My usual reply to those questions has always been something like: “My professional life is shaped by 2 things. Leading change and having great mentors”. I suspect this will remain same for my professional journey in the future as well.

On the mentoring front – I have been very fortunate to work with some of the best and bright minds in the industry who imparted their wisdom when I needed them. Some took me under their wings when I faced rough weather. Some mentored me knowingly while others helped me unknowingly. Some have now become life long friends. I found my mentors came from all walks of my professional life – people who I worked with internally in a company or outside a company; people who I reported to or bright people who worked for me shaped my thinking. Bottom line – I just don’t know how else I would have accomplished much without them. Hence – my personal experience on the mentoring front has been very rewarding and positive despite what I occasionally hear on how hard it is to find good mentors.

For budding aspirants – my advise remain to seek out good mentors. If it is hard to find good human mentor(s) then seek out good books. Right books can be decent alternative. However, before you seek out mentors – do ensure you approach them with an open mind; willing to listen; learn and act differently. Nothing turns off mentors and future relationship than mentees attitude. Mentoring is like tough love where you want to hear feedback that is hard for others to share with you. In many cases you will hear something that you have to change and not people/things around you.

On the Change front – I am driven by Change and in some regard I have been a change agent all my professional life. I usually jump with both my feet when I see Change approaching and then I work extremely hard to make Change successful. Looking back – my professional career is defined by those moments of Change – where instead of hesitation I ran towards it and make the Change a successful transition point for me. I subscribe to the notion as one of my friend used to say…”Change is just a change. It is what we make out of it”.  My attitude towards Change truly helped create opportunities for me that otherwise may not be there for me. I must admit though it did not come easy. However, I enjoy this kind of change as I see it as a personal growth. I have found that Change keeps me sharp and brings the best out of me as I am driven by constant learning, growing and improving.

Change do not come easy. It is hard work and seek commitment. I have found to make the most out of Change – one has to be open and flexible to try things differently or do different things. It helps to have the ability to grasp and learn things quickly as well as keeping an open mind to unlearn past habits/things while committing to relearn new habits/things without getting too frustrated. Also, given we live in a competitive world where lots of things Change regardless due to the factors out of your control – I have found having foresight to see the type of Change coming and making/leading the Change on your own while time is on your side is more fulfilling. It is empowering and satisfying to see the Change happen through you rather than seeing the Change happen to you.

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Wanna play? Can you commit?

“It was my tongue that swore; my heart is unsworn” – Euripides

We all have personally experienced, heard or seen examples where an individual or team accomplish goals that otherwise was seen hard to accomplish. It is the kind of stories that surprise people involved. You know about it when you experience it. And I am sure we all have our fair share of similar stories either in our personal life or professional life where we accomplish something that we thought was less probable. We revisit those glorious moment/period from time to time to cherish and renew our confidence on what we can accomplish.

So what set such moment/experience aside from the other ones? I believe it is how we get our head in the game and tackle our self-doubt. Doubting ourselves as we undertake a daunting journey is part of the commitment making process. And how we tackle those doubts leading up to making personal commitment towards accomplishing those goal differentiate the outcome – from winning or missing the mark. 

Commitments are personal by nature and we have to go through our own intellectual and emotional journey as we commit ourselves to a cause. However once committed it propel us to take action. It gets the creative juices flowing opening up new paths on daily basis. It allows the right stuff to happen, breed determination and rally individual and team towards an unrelenting pursuit of that elusive goal/outcome. Once committed it also frees the mind from doubts and instead focus all energy towards progress and discovering creative approaches that can lead us to the goal. I have found time and again – a committed individual or team – is able to discover right path/approach necessary to accomplish the daunting goal that may have looked so hard to accomplish at the onset. 

So want to play to win and accomplish seemingly daunting goals then let’s start with tackling our own doubts. Getting truly committed help accomplish those daunting goals and liberate mind from worries filled with self-fulfilling failure scenarios.

Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans. -Peter F. Drucker

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Paradox in business life

Life is full of paradoxes. All of us experience it on daily basis. Business life is no exception either.

Few examples:

  • Seek consensus or seek difference of opinion: Looking for consensus? But difference of opinion is what bring individuality and makes a place aspiring. However, you need a level of consensus to build buy-in for successful execution.
  • Conflict – bad or good?: You don’t want prolonged conflict that has negative affect on the organization. They are bad. As a leader – you step in before things go out of control. However, also recognize some conflict can be positive to get the creative juice flowing. Do you know what makes movies exciting? It is the conflict in the movie story line. No conflict. No story. No fun. No success to celebrate.
  • Want to lead – learn to follow: First rule when leading – can you take direction from others and make it your own? Learn to follow. Know when to lead and when to follow.
  • Do you take all or give to grow: It is what we learn as kids. Share your toys if you want to play with other’s toys. By doing this you also make friends and have more fun. Collaborate and be willing to give more than what you may get out of it. Like life, business life, is also not a zero sum game. Want to succeed – help others.
  • Be directly involved – can you do it indirectly through others: Aspire to be a strong leader who is closely involved with everything. Just recognize this takes away the growth opportunity of others. Know how to build trust and give room for others to grow. Learn to be directly involved – indirectly; through influence – and remain actively engaged.
  • Learn through Success or Learn through Failure: As the saying goes success breeds success. However some learning come from failures. It is smart to learn from someone else’s failure and avoid your own where you can. When you fail – just learn how to fail quickly and get out of it fast.
  • Make hard choice or an easy choice: Take the path of least resistance or make the hard choices that move the needle where you aspire. You know if those things would be that easy then they would not be waiting until now? No need to lower the goal – just communicate your aspiration openly so that people understand the rationale and purpose behind the tough call. However don’t need to boil the ocean on every thing. Some things can be accomplished with easy choice and taking the journey – one day at a time.
  • Celebrate heroes or celebrate the team: If you are in the business of building software product – then you probably understand building product is a team sport. So how to celebrate team success while cherishing heroes – who are the life and soul of any product.
  • Blame or take the blame: Leaders who step up and take the blame avoid blame. Don’t deflect. Also, find a way to build responsibility in the organization that reduces such sticky situations.
  • What is important Fact or Perception: As a leader you believe in facts; data; metrics but end up tackling perceptions. Have you heard the saying perception is reality? Hold on to the facts but don’t let the perception take over the agenda.
  • Strength is weakness?: How many times you have heard what is someone strength is their weakness too? Still play by your strength while keeping an eye for it to not become weakness. Watch out for the blind spots.
  • Command or Seek help: Need to be  in command in some situations – but other places you seek help. Actually, stronger your influence more help you seek.

And the list goes on. Point being as with everything else in life – understand how to find the right balance in every day situation. It is what makes everyday business life fun.

Posted in Blogging, Enterpreneurship, Globalization, Organization Development, Personal | 3 Comments

In our lifetime…

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. – Charles Darwin

In our life time – we saw:

  • Computers came to life. And shrank in size as fast as they came while becoming extremely powerful
  • Computers morphing from general purpose to special purpose that are now omnipresent in all walks of life
  • Internet coming to life and connecting the whole world like never before. It compressed physical boundaries and brought cultures together. It ushered a new ear of globalization like never before.
  • Cellphones came to life. I recall having no phone in our home to having phone where you need someone in the Telephone company to switch the jack for callers to connect to each other.
  • Concept of Telegrams vanished. Fax machines arrived and fading fast.
  • We still have Kodak moment but Kodak photo films are soon to be found no where. Cameras have gone through multiple overhauls.
  • Cars have gone through such major over haul that Gas guzzlers are counting years left while being replaced with Hybrid/Electric cars or other greener alternatives
  • Who knew all the Carbon we were emitting and Polythene we were dumping was impacting our world ecosystem? Now we can’t go by a day when our kids don’t remind us of our responsibility towards future generation and our need to recycle.
  • Television gone from black and white to color to LCD to 3D. TV used to bring neighborhood together for everyone to know what is going on in the world. TVs are now fighting hard to keep younger generation glued and not to lose them to Internet
  • Radios used to be as big as TVs. Now you can listen to virtually any radio station or create your own on the Internet
  • We saw tapes/cassettes/records/floppy in all form of shape and size disappear for their digital form
  • Did anyone know we will need “Social media” to interact with friends? Or our ability to take a flight and come back on the same plane from space.
  • Who knew we will be growing organs to replace body parts? and progress in the field of Medicine that has extended our average life

This list does not end here. We all have our own list that we can fill based on your own life experiences to give it our own personal flavor.

Point being – almost in every aspect of life – things have changed in our own life time. Things have never stopped changing. Nor it ever will. Change happens at its own pace. Some time things change fast and vanish; some time things change slowly while morphing into different shape and size. Nonetheless things change. This is true for personal and professional life. In business life, just check out the Fortune 500 list every decade or so to gauge our ever-changing industry landscape.

Change is the only thing that is constant. Variable is how a Change end up affecting us.

One of my friend told me early on that Change is just a change. Everyone involved are equally exposed. However, some people make the best of a Change and use it as an opportunity; while others struggle. Usually, people who are able to embrace a Change get the opportunity to shape the journey and reap the reward. Of course people who are able to project Change are always prepared and they find themselves a step ahead to ride the change.

So next time – when you hear about change – ask yourself how can this Change be an opportunity for me? Our landscape is ever-changing and the next one may be just the Opportunity you have been waiting for. Go lead the Change.

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Teamwork and Collaboration

Earlier today, I stumbled on this video clip of John Chambers speaking to Harvard Business on few of the things changing on the organization front. It is vital in the current day and age where increasingly changing landscape and global competition that continue to shape things faster than ever before. The need to scale our organization has never been higher.

Anyway few things that we should care about on organization front:

1. Value of councils and pulling together cross functional work groups to help scale the organization. We initiated Management Excellence earlier. I am now looking forward to the Quality and Architecture council initiative to help us bring excellence in Quality and Technology execution.

2. From Command and Control to Leadership by influence. Value of Collaborative leadership (read: be prepared to give more than you get) has never been higher in our business valuing our people. Just remember life is not zero sum game.

3. Importance of Social Media. I am proud of our team who regularly blogs on our product Community Sites and participate in various forums/discussions. We are connecting with our stakeholders in more ways than ever before.

Our landscape is changing. We are no perfect by any means. However, we are prepared to learn and change and that is what counts. I am mighty proud of our organization and it is a privilege to lead such talented team.

Check out this video on YouTube:

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Management Excellence

Front line management plays a key role in the success of an organization. It can be competitive differentiator when companies are able to harness their management talent for their greater good. Consider the following on the importance of front line management:

For 80% to 90% of the employees in an organization – their direct manager is the umbilical cord that ties them to the company. This is where most of the employees interact on the daily basis, learn strategic direction and get the latest scoop happening in the business. This is where employees have personal and in most cases trusting relationship. This is where employees debate/discuss strategies; tactics get formed/morphed; individual employee formulate their opinion(s); speculate what will happen next and the outcome; individuals either get in general agreement or start to dug their heel and resist. This is where true organizational juices flow…and combined organization chemistry gets experienced. This is where strategies succeed or miss the desired mark. This is where companies are either able to bring the meaningful change successfully or miss the boat. In a nut shell – front line management is what makes a company vibrant, healthy and successful.

So managers on the front line has a demanding job. It is hard as they are several layers removed and at times may not have all the necessary information or visibility around key decisions. In large organization there is usually cynicism to begin with – particularly when an organization is experiencing change. Managers are typically left with the tough job to interpret/implement strategies and engage organization to make things successful. This is especially hard as organization gets larger; distributed and employees working remotely. So what should a front line manager do when things are fast changing and ambiguous? Or when there are strategies that you haven’t bought in yet and has direct impact to you/your team? There are more grey scale regardless with no clear black and white choices exist. So how do you communicate when emotions run high?

One of my mentor early on drilled in my head that communication is what’s received. It is not what’s sent. You may be thinking you are doing a great job communicating/sharing but it won’t do good until people have absorbed the message; understood what it mean to them and its impact in their daily life. More often it takes the multiple effort to communicate the same thing in multiple way for message to sink in before people start to buy in. This is especially true when things are fast changing in an organization that is operating under the pressure to perform high and everyone is expected to do more with less.

While the job of a manager remain tough – here are few thoughts on what a front line manager can do to help make things easier:

First and foremost acknowledge the responsibility that comes with the management role. It is a humbling responsibility and come with its own expectation. Being a manager is not an entitlement. It comes with great responsibility to lead your people. I strongly suggest to invest in yourself and learn/read about best management practices. Subscribe and read HBR or other prominent columns dedicated to management. Find a peer group or mentor where you can discuss situations to understand how others have handled similar scenarios. Here is a point of view on being a responsible manager.

Always seek to understand the big picture. During one of my regular Q&A session with my extended management team I was reminded that “Knowing” a strategy does not mean we “Understand” the strategy. My sincere ask to folks in management: you owe it to yourself and your team to “Understand” the strategy. Half the battle is in showing up and engage your respective leaders; ask questions and use every forum available to you to understand the strategy.

It also help to know what is happening in your competitive landscape. Read your industry, competition and market place trends. At times it help put things in perspective on why a business is acting the way it is. Usually you are not alone and market pressure impact competition just the same. It helps understand the business pressure that leaders are dealing with whether it is about growing top line or managing bottom line; understand technology/product rationalization/changes needed; understand cross sell or up sell need; seeking improving the level of productivity; seeking kind of skills/experience need for the future; stretching $ to gain improved operational execution; etc.

Learn to differentiate between Strategy and Tactics. Most often people struggle with the tactics and not the strategy. Tactics has direct impact on people day job. While good tactics make strategies successful – conversely bad tactics make good strategies seem bad. And good organization is where tactics change/morph that is necessary for an organization to embrace and make a strategy successful. There is lot more freedom than management team may believe on their impact in arriving at appropriate tactics. Front line managers can help arrive/morph tactics based on the culture of the organization and what can work with employees in a company. Also feel free to change tactic that is not working. e.g. Building an agile organization is an example of the strategy. How an organization achieve it is about tactics.

Once you understand the strategy – Own and make the strategy your own. Ask the question – do you believe in the strategy? Once you believe in the strategy – it will help you participate in arriving at the tactics necessary for the strategy to succeed. This also help you fill in the blank when things are ambiguous and not everything is crystal clear. It will help you deal with grey matter.

Proactively engage your team and communicate strategy with credibility. Use communication style that works for you – written, verbal, personal, large team setting, etc. Share strategy as if it is your own and why it is important for the business. Share both side of the coin. Call out the challenges as you emphasize the strengths around why the strategy makes sense for a business to take. It is better calling out what to do to mitigate challenges (as they become tactics) for successful outcome.

Repeat, Repeat and Repeat the message. Constantly communicate in appropriate setting depending on where team stand on the strategy and every individual perspective on things.

People are not afraid of strategy. People are afraid of the changes they usually bring.  And not all changes result in everything positive for every one involved. At times changes are hard. Show empathy when sharing change as individuals struggle to grasp and understand the reasoning associated with the change. No need to be just marching to the orders or pushing things down. Corporate world is not tuned to the level of discipline expected in an Army. Frankly orders and mandates takes the fun away of working in an innovative work environment anyway.

Lastly, watch what you say when in private. This is where I see most people struggle.  This is where either we help an individual get over their concern and understand organization strategy better or we leave them with more cynicism. This is where we help build credibility that is needed for an individual to understand and overcome their own inhibition. Now this do not mean managers are expected to remain formal all the time or hide under their corporate cloak. Being personal and relating to people is what makes us human and build relationship. Everyone has their own way to remain personal and still share the message we believe in.

Posted in Agile, Blogging, Organization Development, Software Development | 2 Comments

Leadership by Influence – Part Deux

This is in continuation to the earlier post…Here are few things I do more consciously than ever before in my own leadership journey:

1. Hire bright people and get out-of-the-way. It has been my rule #1 forever. Leaders are responsible for bringing in the bright talent and establish right organization processes/structure necessary that encourages desirable behavior and reduces power broker in the organization. It helps when decision-making can be spread at appropriate levels for an organization to scale and be efficient.

2. Establish organization/individual expectation. It help to establish aspirational goals while providing safety net. It is important to provide safety net to take away the fear of failing. However, a stretch goal is worth having to bring the best out of our collective people plus it surface challenges that need various people to collaborate to solve and bring high tide in the organization.

3. Avoid bad mouth your peers; superiors; etc…it neither help build relationship nor it build personal credibility that is needed to have collaborative relationship. This does not mean to be chum with everyone. It is ok to have disagreements and learn to share them professionally. Also, it is ok to occasionally vent – we all are humans and need emotion release at times to clear the head. I find it best done in private and with a friend that you confide.  Just don’t take things personally and start dis-crediting or demonizing others. Seek to understand. I find it helpful to focus on the intent rather than what I hear on the surface that cause folks to react negatively.

4. Where possible establish cross functional workgroup for problem solving. It help broader organization engaged to address the organization challenges. Also, overtime it develop collaborative behavior towards tackling problems together and arriving at solution that has broader organization view-point. More often than not – I am surprised by how much organization want to participate and solve business/organizational challenges. Actually they will arrive at the similar quality or better solution that a leader may have but now with an increase sense of pride and ownership that is needed for successful execution.

5. Find a way to call out your perspective as workgroup discuss things. However, this is usually the hardest thing I have encountered for me to accomplish thus far as I usually have a perspective or two to share in most dialog happening in the organization. It is hard for team to remove positional influence that leaders carry when they share their perspective. It is far too common for team to take a leader’s perspective literally as a desirable “outcome” – while that is not what you may imply. How things get said and what gets said matters to the individuals in the room. It is easy for any leader to trample and push personal agenda through leaving team baffled. As a leader one need to be consistent here day in and day out as I have found this to be hardest thing to achieve.

6. Remain open – to the point be willing to make/accept a decision that goes against your own personal conclusion as the team recommend one. This does not mean just accept what get recommended or accept every recommendation. Of course, as a leader ask questions to ensure recommendations meet the objective and goals established for the initiative as you or team arrive at the decision.

7. Dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity – this is another reason where leaders quickly try to take the steering wheel back when things become uncertain. Everyone has their threshold of dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity – before our control-freak DNA takes over. This is where patience can be a real virtue – however it is usually in short supply in such situations when impatience run high. Finding your own comfortable zone during uncertainty is personal growth and leadership challenge.

8. Dealing with Conflict – when to step in the organization conflict? Do you let it just go and wait for it to be sorted out between individuals/groups? or should you step in the moment you hear about it? Wouldn’t you want involved individuals to use conflicting opportunity to work things out together? I find healthy conflicts are the perfect learning ground to breed future leaders; grow and shape characters. I don’t believe in keeping such conflict prolonged though. I usually get involved sooner rather than later. However, when involved I attempt to not take any personal side or protect individuals. It helps me when I focus on the merit of the ideas and encourage all involved to bring every idea forward including the conflicting ones. By being involved at an appropriate time reduce the situation from becoming a political football. Also, now team has learned a vital lesson to deliberate for better ideas to survive.

9. Create an environment where people collaborate naturally. Some part of it is an individual reflection whether as a leader one is collaborative or not. Most will say we are collaborative. And we all are to an extent. However think are we collaborative beyond our own territories – particularly when it come to problem solving where you may have to give up something you control like your resources/priorities/etc to other business to solve bigger picture? I have found it helpful to think whether my decision or emotions are due to what I am going to lose in a situation or the merit of the idea. It helps taking high road in such situations. Helping business in broader challenges to solve usually result in with better solution for everyone involved.

A Collaborate natural environment is where individuals on their own engage their peers to share best practices; solve business problems collaboratively without expectation and arrive at mutual recommendation that is in the best interest of the business.

10. Lastly, as a leader don’t do the work or make decision that is actually someone else responsibility. Stop it. You hire people in a particular role for a reason. Fix the situation that is causing you to do their work. You may find coaching/feedback will go a long way. Just resist the idea of doing it on your own. It kills team’s collaborative spirit.  Plus now you have a dis-empowered team around you making it overall a weaker team. As the saying goes “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today.  Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”. So go teach your team how to fish.

Posted in Agile, Organization Development, Personal, Software Development | 3 Comments