Want To Build A Brand & Race Ahead… Use Culture As Your Ignition!

Ignition

The word “startup” carries a whole ocean of meaning within itself. Start what? A business obviously! The definition of business imprinted on our minds comes from many management gurus who have said,  “The goal of a business is to make profit”.

Perhaps it used to be. However, its been fully challenged now. The goal of a business is to make profit led by its larger “purpose” and societal responsibilities.  So really it’s about the fact that – Belief’s lead to Behaviors, which leads to Business. Belief is the bedrock of Culture. Culture is propelled by the purpose of the company and fueled by the passion of its people!

In the early days of getting a startup off the ground, it’s easy to sink deep into transactions that are ferocious in intensity and suck both the time and energy of the founders. During this period, founders become bodily and emotionally exhausted, thus not being able to spend time on building deep roots of culture in their organization. This very often is the death knell of most organizations.

This is where HR needs to step in and step up – continuously talk about building a strong and powerful culture of the company, get the buy-in of the board and other senior leaders, socialize with the workforce. In fact get the CEO/Founder to “be” and “become” the Chief Culture Officer. If HR is to be seen as strategic they have to get the architecture and blueprint of the organization right, which goes far beyond the mere reporting lines on paper and policies. Culture has to be the “Cornerstone”!

What I mean by Culture at a workplace is what we call “User Experience” these days. Many would claim in fact argue that the “experience” whether its customer or employee today is the ONLY differentiator. It’s what will make or mar the progress of the company as this evokes a strong emotional reaction, builds loyalty and advocacy amongst all stakeholders. If HR today is getting to sit on the boardroom table, it’s because of the power of the impact they are able to make to the business by building the strong foundation of right values and behaviors, which lead to superlative experiences in the marketplace. And to my mind, it’s not about what authority HR is “allowed” but more about what do they think they cannot “do”. HR does not need to be granted authority – they need to feel empowered to put the right culture building blocks in place.

Wikipedia defines Culture as a medley of Values, Visions, Norms, Working language, Systems, Symbols, Habits, Rituals, and Beliefs that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization. The way it plays out in the corporate world is seen how committed the company is towards building a strong culture of learning, of conversations, of employee wellbeing, of strong values and behaviors and most of all – does it get waylaid on the roadside during times of crisis or does leadership lean to it in times of crucial decision making.

In essence, culture stems from the experiences an employee goes through in an organization and can become a strategic enabler acting as a beacon in tough times. Today, HR is in a strong position to lead the torch on a strategic standpoint and it is purely the responsibility of startup founders to enable, empower and energize the HR function in their startup’s to create positive and lasting employee experiences.

1st published by Business World – http://bit.ly/2yDP7KZ

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It’s Time to “Catch” our People

WIN

In today’s times, compliance and control reign supreme. That’s no surprise given the volatility and paranoia in the corporate world due to economic macro environment, threats from technology, government regulations, unions and such…While organizations grapple with all this and more, its behoveth on us not to forget who’s at the front and centre of our business!

  1. Who creates value for your client & the firm? Is it your product & service or your people?
  2. Who is the advocate of your organization’s brand? Is it marketing or your employee?
  3. Who is the custodian of your company’s culture? HR or the employee!
  4. Who do your prospective customers & employees believe more? Information on your company website or social media posts of your employees?

Who then has really won the war for Talent?

The answer is “blowin in the wind” and has been for quite a while now! The proverbial employee of course! Now’s is the time for us to applaud them in letter and spirit.

Dale Carnegie said – People work for money but will go the extra mile for recognition, praise and appreciation. Many organizations do a stellar work around appreciating their employees. The names they have given to their recognition program (some that I know of are Cheers, Samaan, ICON, Stars) acknowledge the fact that they know that their employee is “The champion”. If that be the case, lets broaden the definition, reach and scope of our recognition programs.

Lots of research and data tells us that many companies value longevity; the tenure of the employee above all, which is great as loyal employee in today’s VUCA times is of great asset. After all they are one’s who have deep contextual knowledge and know just when and how to adjust the sail of their company’s boat when its stormy and windy weather. Experience often trump’s enthusiasm!

Besides loyalty, I want to make a strong case here for recognizing employee for other things as:

  1. Failing fast and learning early with no fear of retribution
  2. Disrupting hence innovating fuelled by organizational resources
  3. Making sacrifices as they steadfastly uphold values
  4. Imploding rather than exploding hence releasing incredible energy
  5. Doing the right thing…for the customer & colleagues when in conflict

When it’s about saying “Well done” & “Thank you”, bust all hierarchy. Let recognition come not just from the top but from all and from all far flung corners of the organization. Build such a strong culture of recognition that it sweeps across the organization like a tsunami.

Let us “catch” our people doing right and watch the magic begin! It’s time to WIN together!

1st published for SHRM Annual Conference – 2017 #SHRMiAC17

It ‘is’ the best of Times; It ‘is’ the Worst of Times…

Hope

It was the best of Times, It was the worst of Times, It was the age of Wisdom, It was the age of Foolishness, It was epoch of Belief, It was epoch of Incredulity, It was a the season of Light, It was the season of Darkness…

So go the opening lines from Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. As I started to write this blog, I couldn’t find more apt words than these to describe what we see happening around us in the political and corporate world.

Beliefs are been forged and shaken, Trust garnered and then shattered, Sages on stage say one thing and do another, People are worshipped and then sacrificed at altar of profit…

As I’ve said earlier, I say again: the linchpin of these behaviours is the Culture and Value system of countries and companies; Epitomized by those chosen to lead them!

If culture be the bedrock of corporates then we must lean on it in times of change and turmoil. It’s the easiest to forgo and forgo but ruthless in terms of its repercussions and results. And we are seeing that around us as I write…What’s happening in Infosys today will go down in the history of corporate world as iconic case study of rise and fall of corporate culture and what’s happening with the US presidency is bound to spark another season of “House of Cards”

But all is not lost! Circle of life is just that – A Circle. What gives me hope and energy is the belief in “Removal of Obstacles” and “New Beginnings” symbolized by the on-going Ganesh Chaturthi festival in India. And if you happen to live in Mumbai, like I do, It’s not just tough, but impossible to stay immune to festival’s fervour and staunch belief in resurgence. So all of us who are working to build a strong and sustaining Culture in organisations, it’s a “call to action” to double our efforts, give it all we’ve got, use all the tools of the trade and tricks up our sleeves to make it stick!

It’s true: “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast” as said Peter Drucker, but then it’s equally true that “Hope springs eternal in human heart” as said Alexander Pope!

Come – It’s time for us to BELIEVE in both the sage and the saint!

 

Solo Act to Symphony… Future of Employer Branding

Symphony

 

Recently at a dinner with a group of senior HR leaders, I was surprised at the conversation which completely revolved around value of employer branding. The zeal and fervour with which everyone was discussing the ascendance and power of the concept  was akin to what in the recent past has been accorded to likes of big data and culture.

Now we all know what Employer Branding is all about, Google is full of articles, blogs and views and opinions ranging from thought leaders to research agencies to publishing houses all extoling the value and virtue of it. After all employer branding is not a spectator sports but a contact sport! What begs the question then is 1) Is it already a mega trend? 2) Has work begun on it in holistic manner? 3) Have companies redesigned their organizations to factor this as a full time role? 4) Is it getting talked about in the board room? Let me share my point of views

  1. Is it a mega trend? Not so far, but soon will be. The onus lies on us as HR professionals and leaders to understand its subtleties and nuances, be able to nurture employee value proposition so employee ambassadorship is unleashed, which together with organizations marketing efforts will become a force multiplier to propel employer branding. If all of us at SHRM, People Matters, NHRDN, BIY, GPTW and talent influencers can put this discussion front and centre, it will gain momentum. Tipping point will come! Look at the LinkedIn post that Susan Peter – SVP HR at GE posted on LinkedIn when they announced John Flannery as the new CEO. She has written about the 6yr journey GE took to identify, train and announce their new CEO. Unprecedented degree of sharing, one would say, but huge in its impact wrt creating powerful employer brand.

 

  1. Has work begun on it in a holistic manner? No it hasn’t. But that’s ok. As it always happens, there are initiators who have taken this raging bull by the horn and have started to make inroads. They are making this their priority and focus and are starting to invest both resources and time on it. Eg Mark Zuckerberg, arguably one of the most employer friendly technology company is regularly on Facebook Live sharing stories of his dreams, failure and turnaround as he built Facebook. Why is he doing it? Well it does give tremendous impetus to the FB brand which no amount of marketing spends can! Added bonus – it’s free for him! Makes business sense – right?

 

  1. Have companies redesigned their organization to factor this in as a full time role? Progressive companies which are catching the tide as it rises on concepts such as Future of Work, Modern Workplaces have certainly begun to do it (Remember my conversation on the dinner table). Like it happened with Diversity and Inclusion, Internal Communication, Employee Engagement, Employer branding is also so far an additional assignment for someone in talent acquisition or marketing but I see the landscape rapidly shifting to having this as a full time role reporting to CHRO/CXO. If I were to extend the definition of an organization to our country India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is already branding it all around the world. His Make in India initiative is meant to make everyone come, stay and flourish in India, his organization!

 

  1. Is it getting talked about in the board room – Yes absolutely it has made its way to the board room. Company reputation both from value creation and risk management is one of the top things boards are beginning to focus on, especially in this era of IOT and social media. The astute board members and the CEO/CXO team is fully conscious of its materiality and have a technology leader on their board who’s the soul keeper of leveraging social/technology both for creating business value as well as to fuel employee ambassadorship. Anand Mahindra – The chairman and MD of Mahindra group constantly tweets and updates his followers on happening within his company. His twitter followers are 4.8mm nearly twice the circulation of major national dailies in India. No wonder then, his speed and reach of communication about the Mahindra brand is phenomenal!

 

So does employer branding really matter, does it make business sense, do stakeholders value it, is there concept of materiality to it, these and many other questions will get asked, are getting asked. There will be soothsayers, naysayers and opinion makers. Either way, the brand is getting built. The difference is will it be by design or default. The music will ebb and flow for a while before it reaches a crescendo, but then, that’s how symphonies are written!

1st published in People Matters magazine – July Issue as Cover Story https://www.peoplematters.in/author/harlina-sodhi

 

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade…

WonderWoman

As 8th March rolls around again, there are countless requests to do a webinar, record a video or an audio byte, do tweetchat, upload photo of smiling successful women at work or at home, mount the stage, hold the mike and talk about gender equality, diversity and inclusion, women in leadership and such! You know what I mean. Like many of you, I’ve been there, done that and more…

While I still do this, what started to disturb me was, these were all “Doing” acts rooted outside of my inner “Being”, ignited and fanned solely by the external world. That’s why while all us women feel a heady rush of an adrenaline on 8th March (after all who does not like flowers on desk, free lunches, time-off, thank you notes) the day soon recedes leaving us with a residual feeling of at best a charming memory and longing if not complete cynicism and apathy.

Having undergone intense crucible moment recently, on deep introspection I slowly started to realize that it’s not the “Do” that I need to search but the “Be” that I need to build! Rumi said “What you seek, is seeking you” and that’s what precisely started to happen. The conversations around me changed, I met people who spoke about deeper meaning of life, higher level of consciousness and I started to “hangout” with those who were in the search of fulfilment and larger purpose of life. They were on the voyage to “Believe In Yourself” exactly the journey I wanted to take and my life took a turn! Do look around, these people are in your life too!

Soon the journey to fortify “My Authentic Self” began and today I walk the path with a surer tread and a stronger “Being”. And now whenever my trainer in the gym tells me to do push-ups and sit-up’s (groan) to harden my core, I smile, give myself a shot of “Believe In Yourself” thought and strengthen my inner core alongside too!

Life is going to throw a few punches now and then! What will matter in the end is “How we took those knocks! It’s time to “Believe In Yourself”, learn and live by these famous lyrics:

I’ll never fear the mountains in the distance, never take the path of least resistance, I’ll give faith a fighting chance, Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance, And when I get a choice to sit it out or dance, I will dance, I will dance!

Are Leaders drivers of Diversity or is Diversity riding in a driverless car?

cars

This decade is perhaps the last port of call for the companies still thinking about Diversity and Leadership. Diversity is not just Gender and Leadership is not just CEO, CFO, COO or the person who owns the company. But alas even after there have been countless articles and blogs written to this effect, endless academia research and white papers that have been published, scores of management lectures and panel discussion on the subject, it’s still the 1st thought that pops up even in most progressive leaders mind and companies. Are leaders the torchbearers of diversity in organizations? The question that begs to be asked is – Not why not? But why? It’s an idea whose time has come and gone!

To my mind, it’s because we have allowed ourselves to think like this, HR and Diversity leaders across the world have risen in unison in last decade or so and drilled the concept of Diversity and role of leadership into every leaders mind, hard-wired it into HR core processes of hiring, learning, performance management etc, to the extent that it’s now become a muscle memory of all leaders! If that be the case, why do we bemoan it?

My viewpoint is that in the corporate world, we have reduced the power and potential of Diversity to the point of trivialization and metricization. It’s a contrarian viewpoint but backed by experience and tons of data.

Let’s look at some other worlds to see how the concepts of Diversity and Leadership play out. If we reflect on any movie award function such as Oscars or Filmfare or IIFA, we will remember that on stage every performer/actor who wins an award starts by saying “I won this because of my team – my director, choreographer, screenplay writer, music director, stunt man, make up artist, publicist and so on” – what they are really saying is – They won, because diverse skills came together to create a perfect mosaic – catapulting them into realms of leadership. The producer and director of the film knows this well and spends time, money and effort putting this magic potion together. Another example is of our armed forces. There is Army, Air Force and the Navy. There is perhaps no one better in the country than the Chief of Armed Forces who knows the immense power of Diversity because it is he who brings it all together in times of unrest, war, riot, revolt etc. As an eg: the diverse skill set of different part of India’s armed forces show various aspects of  diversity – the strength of the Punjab regiment, fearlessness of Maratha troops, Guerrilla war-tactics of the Nagas and valour of Gorkha regiment among many others are legendary.

Hence, it’s the proverbial writing on the wall in the corporate world that says, indeed shouts: that leaders need to appreciate diversity, manage diversity and learn to leverage diversity to ensure competitive strength in the market place as well demonstrate their core moral value system of “opportunity for all”, “fair play” and “equal playing field”. If we continue to hire just men over women believing there are not women out there in the job market who meet our role needs, if managers continue to hire clones of themselves, if leaders vociferously keep defending that “all is well” in their organizations, we have lost the plot even before it’s even begun. I find it fairly a waste of time to keep convincing leaders of the merits of diversity, it’s perhaps the most unproductive job anyone could do in today’s age and times!

So based on my own experience of leading the Diversity agenda in large corporations for over 15years, my call to action points are as under :

1.   Weave Diversity and Inclusion into the language of the company. Sprinkle all leadership communication with the words which position Diversity in the right spirit – Get the verbiage right

2.   Articulate, document and publish your Diversity agenda and then measure it. Drive it relentlessly, with conviction and passion. Slightest of doubt and hesitation will kill it

3.   Continuously check how your diverse population feel – conduct pulse surveys, do focus groups, set up coffee chats – what you don’t know, you can’t solve for

4.   Set up employee resource group – there is power in togetherness. Groups as  Newbies to the company, First time mothers, Far from hometown…derive comfort & feeling of oneness.  Do not fear them getting together – Let them learn from each other.

5.   Run unique programs so that the leaders truly understand nuances of Diversity, such as have a diverse employee from across the company in a structured manner and rotational way attend boardroom meetings, sit through critical project discussion, travel for important client meeting, attend key marketing presentation – the insights and perspective are bound to add value to both the parties

You decide – shall we continue leaning on leadership to drive diversity or Is it perhaps time to – Explore, Experiment and Execute on diversity agenda akin to Driverless cars? 

Bells & Whistles aren’t enough…

It’s that time of the year, when Santa comes flying across the sky and sliding down our chimneys with bag full of goodies and a merry ho ho ho. Eyes stay glued to the hanging stocking by the bedpost, ears strain to hear the reindeer bells ring and hearts brim over with goodwill and joy. But this visual would be quite incomplete; in fact shocking if all you saw were the reindeer pulling the sleigh with all the bells and whistles without the Santa riding in it, now wouldn’t it?

That’s what organizations have to constantly guard against when it comes to building and breathing Culture…it’s easy to plant the tree, decorate it with bells and whistles, put fairy lights on it and sparkly star atop but tough to get it to take deep roots and grow taller. Culture needs a face and voice; usually it’s the Ceo and/or founder of the company.

Often, leaders in their haste set about laying the foundation of Organizational Culture with gusto and enthusiasm only to realize that’s it’s not a project or a product, it’s not a program or a process, certainly not a race or a sprint! It’s an ultra-marathon! Just putting together nuts and bolts of Culture such as training programs, websites and posters, scorecards and rewards is never going to be enough. .

To build, drive and sustain culture leaders have to “run their talk”, “change their language”, “act in accordance”, “protect it when push comes to shove” and “lean on it when torn by conflict”.

Deeply Believe before they Optically Do!

To everyone who is the Culture architect, Culture crusader, Culture evangelist, it’s time to go beyond the bells and whistles and be like the Santa with a constant twinkle in your eye, eternal spring in your foot and forever gusto in your laughter!

Dig deep, Ignite the fire, Leave a legacy…Merry Xmas!