Musings at 40,000 feet…

A80CBC07-052A-4CC9-91D2-84D41D78F9EA.jpegAs I write, am on flight back home to India after 100 day on/off tour of APAC countries….Singapore, Dubai and Melbourne before I take off for Kathmandu in few days. As always my lens to view, observe, reflect and comment on a what I see during my travels is culture. Only this time, it’s the culture of posturing, positioning and pitching. Whether I visited mega diversified conglomerates, worked with technology giants, partnered with small home run businesses or just spent time with local families, what struck me most is the way they are branding themselves, most of all these cities.

Singapore is all about the core values and intangibles assets of its people. Brand Singapore hits you the moment, the wheels of your aircraft hit the tarmac. It has fought their its way out of non-entity status and smallness into becoming a thriving, glittering economy, a shining case study for several global economies. Singaporeans have deeply engrained the value of honouring multiracialism, with fanatical focus on continuing learning and reskilling. Sojourners to this island-nation are now stayers. Every Singaporean is it’s brand ambassador.

Dubai on the other hand believes that brands are about people working together towards a shared purpose. It’s putting its people at the center of its vision and making a assertive statement that they have embarked on a journey to achieve ‘happiness’ for all who reach its shores. In fact, UAE has not only appointed Minster for AI but for happiness and well-being as well. Happiness per them is the ultimate metric of success. If a country’s brand can create that illusion to begin with and then make it into a reality, it’s pull will be like that of a siren drawing both trade and tourism to its shores. What a brand story.

Then there is Melbourne who has what it calls ‘Melbourne moments’. It’s the way they transform ordinary everyday activities into unpredictable and unexpected enjoyment which inspires its residents and visitors to experience them repeatedly, be it the fire spouting pillars on the yarra river promenade, pop up luxury brand retail stores or quintessential reconstructed spaces as empty parking lot, derelict garage or laneways which beckons the passerby just by their sheer promise of unconventional experiences. It’s not for nothing that Melbourne has got rated as the ‘most liveable city in the world’ for years!

If at times, you do think if spending time and money on building a brand is worth the effort, considering it’s such a intangible, well then it’s good to remember that not only these cities but mega brands such as Pepsi, Samsung, Amazon, McDonald, IPL and heaps more pour in millions of dollars into advertisements, sponsorships, events, billboards to keep their brand alive and kicking and right where it belongs…At the top. Let’s trust their reasoning.

Coming closer home, to personal branding, based on my travel observations, I am mulling over these and given that many of you ask me so much about it, thought it pertinent to share:

  1. It doesn’t matter where you come from, What matters is where you’re going. Start now.
  2. Being small does not mean being insignificant. Play the odds.
  3. Purpose fuels passion. Find yours. Fan it furiously. Make it your USP.
  4. To be remembered takes doing. Create your experience moments.
  5. To be a leader, you need fans and followers. Do good, take the stage, let the spotlight shine and say your piece. Applause will follow!

Transition, transform, transcend! Happy travels…

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Incremental steps or Quantum leaps. Now or Never…You pick!

Leap of Faith

World today is noisy! There is cacophony of sounds, images, moments and actions so much so that it’s difficult to calm the mind and focus on the thought, let alone be able to say it our aloud or share with others….Mindshare is tough to get, attention spans are only microseconds long, everyone is swimming vigorously with the current to either surge forward or valiantly swimming against it to stay afloat.

How you are then to be heard and seen and noticed? Women more often than not have a lifelong struggle with it: More than anything else it’s a social blemish and a moral dilemma of “To do or Not to do” Talk about their achievements, aspirations, ambitions and such…After all years of conditioning has taught us that it’s wrong to think about ourselves first, wrong to be vulnerable publicly, inappropriate to talk about our hopes and desires, our dreams and aspirations and share our fears and anxieties especially at workplace. As for networking, lest said the better…

Let’s take the bull by the horns. Its time! My take on building and leveraging networks is – Do what you have to do! If you have something earth shattering to say, obviously say it and if you think what you know isn’t good enough for you to share, say it anyway. Let the world be the judge. Half of lives successes go to the one who speaks up, shows up! If only those who spoke were the ones who had unearthed some world’s mysteries and solved some world’s problems all would be walking around with a Noble prize or an Oscar nomination or a National award…But I don’t see too many of them around! Do you? So don’t let the fear of “I don’t know what to say, I have nothing to share…” ever stop you.

So just go for it. Build a personal brand for yourself, if others can’t do or won’t do it! Better to be known for something however small it may be, than to pass away in insignificance. Remember few things as you embark upon any such journey. Above all, understand and intently focus on “Your being” and “Your doing”. Do not sacrifice “Being” at the altar of “Doing”.

It’s always wise to know what path to take as you move ahead. Be absolutely clear about and have razor sharp focus on:

  1. Why do you want to say whatever you’re going to say?
  2. How will you do it, how often, to whom?
  3. Why will others want to know?
  4. Is it worth the effort?

As for the Why which is your “Being” part, this is what I believe. If you care about something, you have to stand up and say it!  If Deepika Padukone a Bollywood actress starts to be seen on billboards, appears on the “Coffee with Karan Johar” show, go to shopping malls to meet her fans, start going to “happening” events and parties shortly before her movie gets released, why not you? Even celebrities like her need to be seen and heard, repeatedly and on multiple platforms and media for us to sit up and take notice and eventually show up in theatres to see the newly released movie! Sheryl Sandberg needed to go on tour to promote her book, do FB chats and be on a TED stage taking about it before the world knew of her, her ideas and her book “Lean In”. That’s when she is the COO of world’s largest social media company,  Facebook.  If there is a voice within you that’s raging, get it out! If they do, why not you?

How you do it is the “Doing” part. Talk about what you stand for, your cause, things that matter to you, every way you possibly can. Look for opportunities at work to talk to talk to small groups, make those coffee chats and water cooler conversations count, volunteer to do training sessions, write a post and put it blogs on company site, step up to mentor few people, look for affinity groups to socialize. That’s internal: within your company. To reach the external world, leverage the awesome power of social media, use LinkedIn, Twitter, WordPress to freely express, set up and attend MeetUp groups, when on a holiday take out few hours to address neighbourhood community, take a masterclass at academic institutes, look for local events taking place and volunteer to share what you know best, stretch to take out few minutes daily and few hours over the weekends to build consistency and momentum to. It all adds up. In the beginning, expect nothing. Learn to pay forward!

Why will anyone else care? Now that’s a fair thing to ask ourselves. Just coz it’s what you want to say and do, certainly doesn’t mean those around you will have to jump up to listen! The answer is “blowin’ in the wind” sang Bob Dylan 1) Find an affinity group similar to your life goals, they will want to hear 2) Find other on same path as your lives joys and passion, they will pull you into the circuit 3) Get yourself on a stage that matters, around your areas of expertise, get written about in a publication which is widely read…then folks will sit up and notice! 4) Align yourself with a bigger cause than you that will rally others to join your journey. Say and share often and freely, push the needle on the subject, be a thought leader, torchbearer. Stand up for something, be known for it…And I’ve noticed that if one musters courage and stands up to talk, people gather to listen…and that’s how a “Kafila” grows!

What it will do for you is create a newer world! Get you connected to not just thousands but millions of people who are on same path as you! Help you further your purpose, fuel your passion and give you abundant physical and mental energy to move further, put a smile on your face and spring in your step. After all, when all is done and dusted, that’s what will really matters! These are the material gains, everything else is incidental!

Often when I hear is “there is no time”, “I am swamped with so much already”. “I don’t know how to use social platforms” and such. My reply always is – If that’s how you feel, you don’t want it badly enough…let it be. Until then, standby to watch others struggle to rise/fall/rise again on worlds stage, stand aside for those who walk the extra mile whiz past you at work, burrow your head into your pillow to get little more sleep as others wake up to go run and discover new places!

The day something/anything becomes your purpose and passion you will seek to learn, engage and share it relentlessly, pursue it endlessly.

And sometimes in life when the music dims, the stage is dark and the curtains are drawn and down, people’s whose lives you touched will magically appear to stand beside you & applaud.

1st published in “Times of Pamac” – Volume 8, December 2017

Take the staircase coz there’s no elevator! Travails and Triumph of being a TEDx speaker

I just finished delivering my second TEDx talk last week. It was as frightening as it was exhilarating. Since then many of you have messaged with your wishes and many more reached out to ask what it takes to be a TEDx speaker. So I decided to write and share all that has worked for me so far.

It does not matter how many stages I’ve been up on or talk and sessions I’ve done so far, there is something different about TEDx. It’s an honour and an obligation to be on the stage and deliver a talk which is about “Ideas worth sharing”. Last time my talk was about my past which got me where I am and this time it’s about the future where I am going…

This is how it all begins…You must want to do a TEDx talk. You must be prepared to put in endless hours of work to share your idea for little or no glory in the traditional sense except deep satisfaction that you spread the idea you believed in, said the here forth unspoken with a unshakeable belief it will make a difference! In all cases the invite has to be a speaker come from TED/TEDx curator. It cannot be solicited! They pick the speaker based on passion, experience and conviction of the speaker on the subject. Things like age, experience, credentials do not matter…TED believes good ideas can come from anyone, anywhere in the world.

The process of selection is gruelling and there’s absolutely no short cut to it. Once you agree to do the TEDx talk, prepare to put yourself through a roller coaster ride which will be physically exhausting and emotionally draining. Commitment to it has to be absolute! Here’s what’s worked for me both times I did it.

  1. First of all, think of a theme and then a title for your talk. I wouldn’t dishonour the TEDx stage by doling out a talk or presentation I have done before or by not deeply thinking through what idea will inspire many…what idea do I have that is worth sharing!
  2. Once I have the theme and title for my talk, I set out to put myself in the shoes of those watching my talk. Do I need to show visuals so they connect with my idea, what anecdotes and stories can I tell so it resonates, do I pepper it with humour or drama. How do I capture the fancy of TEDsters! The 1st time I gave the talk I had 2 slides, this time I had 15 so really there’s no set format or formula to it. Go with what works for you…
  3. I woke up at crack of dawn many days to research my topic, read everything that has ever been written on it so I have complete mastery over the concept before I give it my perspective and point of view based on my experience and belief’s so as to make it an “idea worth spreading”.
  4. Then comes the difficult part as I write the script. Many speakers scoff at the idea of writing down and practising before they climb the stage to talk, many believe the words will just pour out of their mouths, many believe they can wing it…but that’s not me. I write it all down, highlight places where I will go slow, what I will emphasize where I will pitch my voice higher/lower and such. It’s always worked for me. I wrote 7 drafts before I was satisfied.
  5. When the concept, title, slides and script are all ready, it’s time to practice. I talk out aloud to my mirror, say it in empty office boardroom, tell it to my pet dog, get my friends to listen, say it out aloud while in a Uber cab…pretty much anywhere anyone will listen to it and tell me how it sounded and if they got the “Idea”. Another reason for this frantic practice is that the TEDx talk cannot go over 18minutes. My 1st talk I took 17 minutes and my second one I completed in 12 minutes. In fact, I am quite happy that I am now able to share the idea in 12 minutes. Brevity does seem to be my new hallmark
  6. It’s super critical for me to tell you that I have a formidable support team pretty much for every step. It doesn’t work any other way for me. Friends who help brainstorm the idea, ones who gave me overall design inputs, those who help put my slides and script together and other who heard me as I practiced. Its as taxing for them as its for me but then that’s what friends are for : -)
  7. And then there are many who called and messaged trying to calm my nervousness saying “They believed in me”…”How can I not”. The words which echoed in my mind on the morning of my talk are these two, first one came to me on twitter and read “ Carpe Diem, Its Fait Accompli” and the other text via Whatsapp which said “telling you to do well is akin to wishing Sachin Tendulkar good luck as he goes in to bat”! Now that’s the kind of team you need!

On the morning of the talk, my stomach did rumble and legs did tremble but then this is the moment when all the experience, practice and self-belief kicks in…and rest is the tale to tell!

Many also ask me why I do this? Is it worth all this extra hours of work? This is what I have to say to that: Nothing absolutely nothing compares to the heady rush of adrenaline as you walk off the stage after the talk, I know of no other way to build a deeper knowledge on a subject of future, delivering the talk reinforces my belief in self, helps set the bar higher for myself and puts me in a position to share and spread what I know! And that alone is worth it!

From TEDx to TED talk is a long journey I still have to take…But what I also know is that there is no elevator to it, I’m taking the stairs!

 

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

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

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