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!

 

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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

 

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!