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Organization Meter: Policy & SOP

Policy is formalized practice.

Your organization has been doing something for so long that it becomes part of its identity. It formalizes it by taking approval of the management. Now, not one can go against a formalized practice. While one may not be penalized always if one dithers, there is no incentive to.

Policy is not just formalized practice. 

Policies are powerful tools to bring about change in an organization, to even go against a formalized practice. In these cases, going against the policy can result in penal actions.

The Objectives of Policy

It is to make the operations smoother, the delivery smarter. It is to eliminate ambiguity as much as possible and help decision-makers take decisions in a faster and more informed way. It is to make knowledge transfer simple and succession planning seamless.

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The Requirement of SOP

SOP, for the uninitiated, refers to Standard Operating Procedures. If your organization has wonderful policies, but yet the talent retention is not great, your employees complain against the bureaucratic nature of your organization, your delivery men are frustrated and power circles have evolved within your organizations, it is because your organization does not have enough SOPs.

Use this thumb rule:

For a great organization, Number of SOPs : Number of Policies >> 1. 

Much greater than 1 would reflect that the policy makers are aware of the ground realities and have painstakingly developed and curated their SOPs and/or, the policy makers constantly have an ear to the shop floor and listen to the difficulties faced by the customers (internal or external) as also the delivery men.

The Bottom Line: Writing and adopting policies are not enough. You need evolving SOPs to back them up. Then you might just be able to attain the objectives of policy-making. 

Amartya Dey, India

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Negotiation.001: The First Rule

No, its not determining your reserved price. Or that BATNA and WATNA. 

We negotiate every single day of our lives. Even species not as sophisticated as ours, do it. Every day. But their need to negotiate results from their drive to survive. Humans have to do it. Especially the ones living below the poverty line. But as we climb up the economic, political and social ladder, the need to negotiate results from the desire to assert.

Assert our thoughts, our ideas. Display power in an evident way or a nuanced way. Matter. 

There are men and women who assert with ease. There are some who do not want to but may have to, given the circumstances. Irrespective, one has to negotiate. Even the ones who shy away from negotiation because they might think that:

  • to sit at a negotiating table is beneath them
  • a negotiation exercise is not worth it
  • they might hurt the feelings of the counter-party
  • they can adjust no matter what so negotiation is not required
  • they are not good at negotiating

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So let us break some myths here before getting to the first rule:

  • First, negotiation can never be beneath anybody. We are where we are as a species because we are superior negotiators. It is as simple as that.
  • Secondly, negotiation is totally worth the trouble. Negotiation not only helps us win loofahs in a bathing argument, it actually helps us innovate. If you want to be a change agent, if you want to challenge the status quo, you need to learn how to negotiate. Better. Every day.
  • Thirdly, if you do not get personal and hit someone below their belt, you would not be hurting anyone’s feelings any time soon. And yes, a superior negotiator is not one who wins it all, but one who makes the right concessions so that he might win the next negotiation round too and the one after that. You cannot do that around bruised egos.
  • Fourthly, one-sided adjustment is not sustainable. Whether it be your personal life or your professional life, be ready to negotiate with your spouse and your boss. Again, negotiation does not mean shouting across a table, slamming the glass on it and hurling abuses. No. Negotiation is asserting your presence, your rights, your wants in a civilized manner and appreciating the same of the party you are negotiating with.
  • Fifthly, as mentioned in the first point, we are all superior negotiators. We each have our own style. Some may feel more comfortable by being the first one to state their list of demands (so as to fix the anchor price or reference point), while some may like to listen to everyone before stating anything. It depends. On the situation, on the type of our personality. On the characteristics of the ones sitting across the table. That said, we can only be better negotiators only by negotiating more often. The best negotiators are the best because they have negotiated with more people and situations than you and me. It is that simple.

Which brings us to:

The First Rule: Do not shy away from the negotiating table. 

Embrace negotiation. Fail. Falter. Make amends. Try again. Negotiate with your spouse as to who is to do the dishes next. Negotiate with your boss if he overloads you with work or does not respect your well-earned family time. Negotiate with society and challenge the norms you feel are silly and stupid. Negotiate to win. Negotiate even after you lose.

Just do not shy away. Negotiate. The world would be all the better for it.

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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The Abuse of the 360° Feedback System

The 360º Feedback system is hailed as one of the more progressive feedback systems where employees get feedback from not only direct supervisors from their departments but also, in many cases, outside stakeholders. Juniors, peers and seniors – anyone who has worked with you – can give you feedback. This feedback can not only help you become a better professional but also helps companies review their employees in a holistic way.

 But it is a system after all!

The 360º Feedback system has two important pillars on which it stands:

  1. Confidentiality
  2. Anonymity

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Confidentiality means that I would not know who is reviewing me. You would not know who is providing feedback to you. But can the veil of confidentiality be burnt and stamped upon?

Anonymity is closely related to confidentiality. Anonymity ensures that the one providing feedback can do so without any fear or discomfort. So that they can tick and choose whatever they think is fair. But can someone bypass the veil and know who was standing right behind it?

The Value of Stress Testing

In the banking industry, stress testing of assets and portfolios are done using computer simulation models to determine how the assets and portfolios would fare in times of financial crisis such as the one we saw in 2008. Similarly, all systems and processes need to stress-tested.

Stress-testing is important for HR processes and systems because loopholes can be exploited and need to be plugged in in-time so that it does not affect the overall health of the organization. Checking for clues and reporting them:

  • Does S employee know that T is going to review him?
  • T is S’s subordinate. Is she being afforded the opportunity to review her supervisor in a fair manner?
  • Has a nexus started where P agrees to scratch the back of R, and R agrees to reciprocate?

The Caveat of Stress Testing

Although stress testing can help improve our systems and processes, it should not be a cause of harassment for the employees. While deviant behavior needs to be recorded and reported, all the actions of employees should not be look at with suspicion. Not everyone is trying to fool the 360º Feedback system.

We need to ensure that employees are ready to both provide and accept a true and fair feedback. While most organizations use the 360º Feedback to review employees, the end goal of reviewing also is to help the employees be better professionals so that the organization may benefit and not just to judge and rank them.

How can the 360º Feedback be implemented better?

First, it should be communicated to employees that the feedback is for their own good. So that they can perform better, they can have better work-life balance and get the opportunity to lead the organization.

Secondly, 360º Feedback should not be implemented at one go. It should be random and through out the year. Feedback weeks can lead to enormous loss of man-hours just because so many employees make it a big deal. It is important but not more important than the task at hand.

Thirdly, the feedback touch-points should not be too many. More than 20 and you lose the one giving a feedback. You do not want to bore them.

Fourthly, make it intelligible. It is not for testing their command over the English language. Short, simple and casual.

Fifthly, casual. Yes, casual. Make it sound too formal and too important, you give an incentive to cheat, to try find the loopholes. Again, it is important no doubt. But the bottom-line more so!

Sixthly, if anyone gives 5 out 5 or 0 out 5, make them use an event to describe why they are giving that rating. This would stop the abuse and not just make it too “casual”. This is also why you should not forget the third point mentioned here: not making the feedback paper too long. Too long, and you cannot do this sixth!

The Summary!

To end, review and feedback is important. But not more important than organization performance. These should help the organization be better. And for them to help the organization perform better, transparency, confidentiality, anonymity and good survey procedures are a must!

Hope this article helps. Share your ideas!

Author: Amartya Dey, India

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Human Aspect: Importance of Precedent

An act or instance that may be used as an example in dealing with subsequent similar instances. 

www.thefreedictionary.com

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Picture Credit: deviantart.com

Precedents are important. It is important to set some precedents. It is important to avoid setting some. Many understand the value of precedents and may even go about exploiting them. Most don’t. Especially in their professional lives.

Do not do out-of-turn favours for any one.

It can set a precedent which may affect you (or worse: the organisation you are working in) adversely in the not-so-easily-predictable future.

Use discretionary powers with caution.

Many positions offer us with discretionary powers. Use them when utmost necessary. You may know how to deal with fire, your successors may not. They may burn their hands and also the organisation.

Beware of ballooning precedents.

Precedents are also negotiation benchmarks. While you may set a nominal precedent in the present, it may balloon into something unmanageable  in the next round of negotiations.

Set good precedents.

Be transparent. Honest. Forthcoming. This would be reason enough for your subordinates to be the same. Do what you expect others to be. As they have said often, actions speak louder than words.

Author: Amartya Dey, India

Click to access other related articles: 

Human Aspect: Confirmation Bias

The Hedonic Treadmill Effect

The Last Country to Abolish Slavery

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

Working More Than 12 Hours?

Forgive the rant, but: 

If you are spending more than 12 hours at your workplace (barring exceptional circumstances), that would mean that either your organization’s culture is poor or/and systems are outdated or/and processes are lethargic or/and you are inefficient (you need training, thus) or you are a psycho (you need a psychiatrist).

If you are spending more than 12 hours at your workplace, you are a liability. 

You are not an asset for the organization. Even if you are thought so by some, you are a depreciating asset. You are an asset with high maintenance, high peripheral costs. You set the wrong example. You vitiate the entire atmosphere. You ensure that the wrong people are promoted and the better employees leave for better organizations. You are not only a liability for your organization, but even for your family. You are setting a wrong example even for them.

If you are spending more than 12 hours at your workplace, you are taking the human civilization backwards. 

There was a time when the 4 day work week seemed like a probability. That everyone would have enough time on their hands to pursue their hobbies, pursue their passions. That everyone could have a side-project that could further the civilization. But people like you killed it. That dream. You made people more aggressive, more greedy. Unnecessarily.

If you are spending more than 12 hours at your workplace, you are already dead. 

Telling someone publicly that you work more than 12 hours does not make you appear smarter in front of your colleagues. Whatever they might say in front of you, they pity you behind your back. They pity that you do not have a life outside work. They pity that you do not realise that in all probability you would not be remembered by your own family in 200 years time.

They pity that you don’t realise that you are already dead and inconsequential.