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Bosses Type.001: The Kangaroo

The Kangaroo hops around. It looks marvelous as it hops around. Remarkable. Always with a trick hidden in its pouch, you never know what its going to surprise you with next.

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The Kangaroo is good at networking because it does not stay hidden in its closet, you see. Well hopping around has its benefits and controlled well, it can take you places.

The Kangaroo is mostly a generalist, lacks expertise. Not that it stops the Kangaroo from sharing its expertise through expert comments. This is not the only way through which the Kangaroo may irritate you or impede you from working productively. The worst part is its lack of focus.

It would keep on shifting goals for you, hopping around. It can be a pain to work under the Kangaroo. That said, like every other boss, it can be managed too. Yaay!

How?

Now that is a big question. How! By staying calm. By being organized. By focusing and cutting all the noise. And considering that it might just be an opportunity to learn all the work because you would have to do all the work. Do not take it negatively.

Remember!

If you have managed the Kangaroo even once in your life, you can manage any client, any number of clients. No problem.

Amartya Dey, India

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Human Aspect: Beware of the Exceptional Employee

Tacky? Well, may be!

It sounds counter-intuitive to be warned against the exceptional employees – the ones who work hard, put in extra hours, demonstrate organizational citizenship behavior, go the extra mile, help others, do not apply for leaves and put the organization before their own personal selves. Especially when we keep on hearing about ongoing war for talent.

Who doesn’t want an exceptional employee! I know for sure that I do!

The Story

Tapa loves her family. She loves her family so much that she not only makes her family breakfast, she literally earns her family the breakfast. She does not let her husband work. Her husband does not complain about the arrangement. He is a religious man who likes to read, write and think about God. He loves staying in his own realm.

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Her kids love Tapa too. She comes back from the office, cooks them food with the help of the maid she pays for. She also does the kids’ homework assignments. She does not want to give them “stress“. Her children read enough to get decent marks in school and with the increasing weightage on project marks, they have been doing better than the average because Tapa takes care of all their project assignments.

Tapa does not complain. In fact, she enjoys it all. She likes staying “engaged“. And her family members adore her. Her neighbors respect her. She is the leader with a hashtag.

But one day, in an unfortunate accident, Tapa ends up in the hospital with both legs fractured.

Now, imagine!

Imagine what would happen to her family members who were so dependent on her for everything. How would they manage? By going the extra mile, did Tapa actually make the family stronger or fragile?

The Organization Set-up

Similarly, in an organization, we have some exceptional employees like Tapa. They would do everything for their organization and bosses. But one day, they would quit or retire (or like Tapa: end up in a hospital with fractured legs). And just like Tapa’s family, the organization would be at a loss as to how to manage without them – forget about improving, just staying at the same level would be impossible.

Why does it become difficult to manage?

Because no one else was prepared to play the role played by Tapa. Forget the role played by Tapa. No one was prepared to play the role for which they were hired for in the first place. Every responsibility, accountability and eventually authority was centralized. The other members just never came to know about the 3 legs of the tripod which holds up an organization.

How to identify?

It isn’t rocket science. Just track the data easily available and communicate!

  1. Who are the ones working longer hours? Ask them why.
  2. Are all your employees taking vacations? Who are the ones not taking vacations? Ask them why. And make them take vacations. Seriously!
  3. How is the organization performing when the key employees are on leave or are even out for some training? Only in the absence of exceptional employees, can stress-testing of the organization take place.
  4. In this age of technology, no job should be critical. We make it critical. And if we want and have the will, we can “de-critical” a job too. But to understand all that, the ones at the top need to be good listeners.
  5. Talk to the exceptional employees. Check if they are training employees in their stead?
  6. Rotate employees across departments. Do not keep one employee with the same job responsibilities. The time period may vary from one type of job to the other but job-rotation not only enhances the motivation levels of employees, it also helps create a good bench strength of future leaders who have a holistic idea about the business overall.

These are some of the tips. But I am sure that much more can be done.

By the way, the work martyrs also harm themselves while putting in the effort to remain exceptional. They burn-out! Mind you, we need exceptional employees for exceptional results but not at the long-run cost of the organization or the health of the employee.

Tapa’s Future Action

While in the hospital, Tapa sees how her family has fallen in a state of despair. They cannot cook for themselves, wash their clothes or even instruct their helping hand. Her children cannot do their homework and eventually flunk. Her husband finds it hard to even use the ATM and buy vegetables. All this makes Tapa think. She makes a new resolution.

After she is released from the hospital, her style of working changes. She prioritises and does only the essentials. She helps her children with their homework only when necessary. She makes her husband search for a job and he gets one. They both take turns in doing the shopping for the household now.

Tapa becomes happier. And her performance at her work-place has become better although she spends less time there. Her children grow up to be self-reliant adults who understand the dignity of labor. Her husband is taken more seriously and he has got a new audience for his religious lessons at his workplace.

The total earning of the family has gone up. The members have become stronger. And they are better prepared now if at all someone falls sick or an accident befell someone.

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The same would happen to your organization too. If only you start managing your exceptional employees better. If only you be aware! 

Author: Amartya Dey, India

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Two Levers: Potential & Tacit Knowledge (Part I)

We hire for potential. We retain for tacit knowledge. 

For any organisation, hiring and retention of talent are among the most important aspects of their business to retain competitive edge over their competitors. In this series, we would help you define the different categories of “talent” using two critical parameters: potential and tacit knowledge.

But, first, let us be clear on one of the basic assumptions that we all mostly hold true: our talent bases are turfs we strive to protect at any cost. [Well, reasonable cost.]

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Picture Credit: pbconsulting.co

And no one likes to lose their turf (read: talent).

What is potential?

Potential can simply be thought of as the performance level at which a performer may perform given the right conditions. The higher the potential, the better it is. That makes sense immediately to all of us. But this also means that for high potential (HiPo) talent, the organisation is more responsible to ensure that the right thriving and nurturing conditions are provided.

Be responsible while handling potential. 

Wasting potential would be akin to wasting a business opportunity with a great internal rate of return (IRR). There is also the risk of the IRR becoming equal to zero if a high potential candidate is poached by a competitor after all the hard work and spending by one’s organisation. So, be careful!

Can potential be increased?

Definitely. By exposing employees to diverse problems while also making them part of developmental programmes which focus on systems thinking, potential of an employee can be increased. Just by telling them how their role affects the bottom-line, you would have increased the potential of your talent pool members.

Why is “increasing potential” necessary?

Increasing the potential of the talent pool is imperative for an organisation operating in a highly competitive marketplace. It would help them develop leaders who are more equipped to stand up to new and more complex emerging challenges. It would help them develop a leadership pipeline. Additionally, the “increasing potential” programmes can make an organisation a preferred workplace for new talent while also helping the organisation retain its employees.

It is a win-win and who doesn’t love win-wins?

In the next article in this series, we would delve deeper into how “potential” of the talent pool can be increased before we journey on to the second lever: tacit knowledge. But let us focus on the first lever for now.

Hope you liked this first part. Your comments and insights are valuable. Do let us know! 

Author: Amartya Dey, India

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Breaking Organizational Silos (Part I)

Breaking Organizational Silos (Part II)

Breaking Organizational Silos (Part II)

In “Breaking Organizational Silos (Part I)“, silos were defined as also suggestions were provided as to how we might break the silos which may emerge in an active manner as well as in a passive manner. In this article, we would look at more such ideas which may be implemented to break the silo mentality – an impediment to exploiting the synergy that should emerge within and between departments of an organization.

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The Caveat First!

All the suggestions may not be implementable. Some might be a fit to X organization’s culture while some might solve the puzzle in Y. 5 suggestions were provided in the previous article so we would start here from:

Suggestion 6: Short Term Project Teams

Constant improvement has become the norm. But employees may get lethargic working in the same environment, same department. They might be great at providing solutions to problems pertaining to their department but what about problems that entail the entire organization?

To solve such problems, project teams can be organized for a limited period of time (3 months to 1 year) where the teams would be responsible for solving one recurring organizational problem. I like to call these HIST – High Impact, Short Term – Projects. These projects would not only enrich the jobs of the employees concerned, but would also benefit the organization as it would also save on some consultancy fees.

This would also help identify and nurture the leaders of morrow as they would learn about the other departments and network with them.

Suggestion 7: Osmosis Weeks

On a bigger and more general scale, Osmosis weeks can be organized where employee from B department would work for a week in C department while that of C would work in the D department. This would help them appreciate the jobs of their counterparts while also developing “Systems Thinking”.

“Systems thinking is a management discipline that concerns an understanding of a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the components that comprise the entirety of that defined system.”

www.systemicleadershipinstitute.org

Again, if you want to develop well-rounded leaders, you might like to try this approach!

Suggestion 8: Brain-Shoeing Sessions

Conduct brainstorming sessions among the Finance department professionals, and ask them how differently would they have operated if they were in the HR department. Likewise, let HR people brainstorm on system or process improvements concerning the Finance department or maybe even the Production department.

These sessions would give you valuable insight about how your organization is actually operating. It can help you take preventive actions and actually thaw the chill!

Suggestion 9: Build exceptional generalists

In this world where expertise charges a premium, it might sound counter-intuitive but it is a sane strategy to train and build total leaders – the generalists. They can act as the glue that holds the ship, switching between departments as and when requirement comes up.

Suggestion 10: Take a world view

While all the 9 suggestions suggested previously may be put in good use, it is important that organizations around the world start taking a world view. And by organizations I refer to the present leadership. Focusing on profits isn’t enough any more. Focusing just on shareholder value may hurt your organization in the long run. Customers are important, no doubt but so are your contractors and so is the community within which your plant operates.

None of the suggestions would work if today’s leaders do not take a world view. None of them.

To Summarize!

Much can be done to break the silo mentality but commitment from the top must be evident for the steps to be effective. “Systems Thinking” must be encouraged so that we have well-rounded leaders and not just power-brokers.

Picture Credit: keenlearner.wordpress.com

Author: Amartya Dey, India

Breaking Organizational Silos (Part I)

The Fundamental Truths 

To start with, the top leadership of any company has to accept two fundamental truths:

  1. Silos exist.
  2. Silos affect collective learning, growth and performance adversely.

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What are silos?

Silos are formed by people like us. Silos are formed by people having a common denominator. The worst common denominators that an organization might have to deal with include race, gender and geography affiliation, the ones which can be tackled more easily are departments or even groups within a department.

Why are silos formed in the same place?

We form bonds, create defined turfs and love to engage in power games. While forming bonds is necessary to perform and excel, turf creation and power games can hurt both the morale of the players involved and the bottom line of the company.

We must also understand that while silos can be formed actively, silos can also take shape themselves. These passive silos can take shape because of poor organizational structure or prevalent work culture. These may also take place of poor reward systems or something as basic as design of the workplace.

But as it happens with most causes, all of them are related in one way or the other. Let us start with the workplace design cause. (The effect being silo mentality!)

Workplace Design & Silos

If you have been to Government organizations, you would see one single department occupying an entire building. Say, that is the Finance department and you work for that department. Now because of some work, you need to visit the Contracts Department which is a 10 minutes walk. Maybe you are in the same building but you are in a different floor.

This space between the departments and the lead time required to get in touch with someone from some other department would determine the silo index measure of the organization you are working in. The greater the space and more the lead time required, higher is the silo index.

One would argue that this is a necessary evil – the space and the lead time. But that would be a lie. It is not necessary and can be tackled easily.

Suggestion 1: Group employees not department-wise but activity-wise. 

Why do we need to design the organization structure department-wise? Why cannot we design it activity-wise? Why cannot we have a bit of both?

Suggestion 2: Cut out the fat.

Many organizations already have the buildings in place. They can change the organization structure and all, but then one building would be put out of use. Stop falling victim to the sunk cost fallacy. Have an extra building? Sell it. Or, demolish it. Your organizational output in the future would more than make up for it.

Suggestion 3: Keep the files at a single place. 

In large organizations, all departments have their own file-space. This increases manpower requirement and there is seldom any standardized method of file-keeping across departments. This makes us inefficient and lethargic.

Suggestion 4: Digitize everything. 

Need to keep hard copy. Great! Keep it in the centralized repository. Just ensure that the human capital responsible for maintaining the files scan and digitize every scrap of paper and upload it in the cloud. (I hate hard disks!) 

This practice has multiple benefits. The top two are: first, it would be easier to group employees activity-wise. Secondly, if there is a fire and every file gets burnt down, you would still have access to the digitized files. (Although the best thing would be to just do away with files and process everything online. This is already being done in many organizations. And it would be done by every organization within the next 30 years.)

Suggestion 5: Rotate people around across teams. 

While research has shown that job-rotation increase the morale of the human capital involved, it would not only help develop leaders who have a fair idea about how the entire business operates, but also deal a death blow to silo mentality. Why build turfs when they would only be destroyed in couple of years?

To summarize!

Silos are present in almost every organization. And it is time that the thought leaders across businesses, geographies and organizations started focusing more on the challenges that silos present so that silos can be weeded out.

Picture Credit: in.pinterest.com

Author: Amartya Dey, India