My Journey, from Slides to Stories

Story.jpg

If you, like me, worked for many years in global MNC’s and large corporation’s words like pitch, deck, power point slides would be part of your language and muscle memory. Your core professional DNA really! The moment I would hear of an operating review, customer meeting, project update, I would grab my laptop and feverishly begin to search through templates and formats, in fact, I even had them archived as per the person we were going to make presentation to….CEO likes blue colour font and prefers pie chart over bar, CFO wants to see excel and benchmark data, Customer want comparison with best practices…you get the drift. It was all canned and highly personalized. Or so I believed….

And then I discovered the power and potential of being “untethered” – walking into rooms full of people, standing on stage, talking in townhall, pitching to leadership without the slides. A year ago, this would have petrified me but then Life took a turn…

Today, my blood pressure no longer rises, I don’t sleep fitfully, and people around me don’t feel the pressure as I no longer spend endless hours making the deck and then beautifying the slides and then fretting over notes under each of them so I remember the data, insight and punch lines!

I now tell stories of my life’s experiences, my own anecdotes, tales of things I’ve done, paint a picture of things that have happened to me, share my own learning and talk of lesson I’ve learnt, a narrative from the heart that leave no piece out – hard facts or emotions.

And it works like magic! No one was as stunned with the impact it has on audience than I was! Not only did I unshackle myself from unnecessary gadgetry, unburden myself from anxiety of building content but ended up adding meaningful colour and context to my conversations.

Today I am my own “Google”, my life experiences are my “Wikipedia” and I am the “Story”!

 

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Serendipitously in search of Destiny…

Rumi 13th Century Poet

“What you seek is seeking you” said Rumi, 13th century Persian scholar, poet and sufi mystic. In recent times, Shahrukh Khan, popular bollywood hero said something similar which caught the fancy of the nation – Agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaaho to puri kayanat usey tumse milane ki koshish mei lag jaati hai (If you yearn for something with all your heart, the entire universe conspires to make it happen)

So far, I did not believe Destiny (Karma) and Serendipity (Chance) had anything to do with each other. But winds and waves of life and time continue to illuminate…Let me explain.

When few months ago, I chanced upon Mumbai Marathon from my balcony, little did I know how that would change my life. Transfixed, mesmerized I watched 40,000 people run their guts out for hope, life, love…Took me a while to understand that “Each of them had a story”

Driven I knew I wanted to be out there running with them next year (2017). But first I had to find “My story”! It took me many months to realize that to go through any life changing experience (and running a marathon is certainly one) besides our family and friends; we need two people in our lives:

One a Trainer who will train our bodies to be stronger – help us workout like a madman/woman, become disciplined like a soldier and fixated on the goal like the Arjun of Mahabharata. I searched and found one. We have a great love/hate relationship 🙂

Second a Life-Coach – it is tough, nearly impossible to tame your mind and control your restlessness without the coach. The coach helps introspect, reflect and enables discovery of authentic self. Thankfully the coach found me! Time will tell how this goes

It is true, once you set out on a path, it does get lit, all roads begin to lead to where you want to go, and you meet fellow travelers on the same voyage as you are…almost miraculously!

So, no longer alone or lonely in this quest…Faith surges stronger in my body, mind and soul.

Rest as the story unfolds…

Brooms are for flying…

vroommmmm

I was tempted to give this article the title from ancient Indian Rig Vedas “Where women are worshipped, there the Gods dwell”, given the fact I am posting it on 8th March – International Women’s Day. And here is a little narrative as to what made me change my mind.

As per Indian Vedic culture, women were held in high regard, they enjoyed position of power, freedom and equality, were revered as goddesses, often advisors to kings on matters of warfare, warriors themselves and were free to choose their own groom in the ceremony called Swayamvara. But in the post Vedic era, their status degraded significantly – Sati pratha, Purdah pratha, Child marriage, Girl child killing, Polygamy became law of the land and sole existence of the women was to live her life for the man – “Pativrata”

So deep has been the physiological and psychological damage to the women through the centuries, that it needs systemic and holistic fixes from all parts of the society. Indian government is running nationwide campaigns to bring balance back in our society via schemes such as Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Acts like Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace, Companies Act which mandates Seat for Women in the Boardroom and themes such as “Nari Shakti” (Women power) at Republic day celebrations.

And where is the corporate India amongst this entire din – does it think of it as “Much Ado About Nothing” or is it doing enough to right the balance? It’s certainly not enough to put a target in the KRA of business leaders often perceived as quota by them to hire more women, run training programs to “upskill” them on management skills which is akin to fuelling the stereotype of what a business leader should be, run initiates to celebrate women day with emails from CXO’s glorifying womanhood  and  flowers on desks by colleagues on #IWD, less said about that the better!

My “call to action” in this blog is less for the companies and more for the women themselves. Assume the role of a leader, it’s there for our taking, fight hard and fight fair to wear the mantle of a leader, it’s equally ours, work hard to move further up the corporate ladder, No, it’s not too crowded, there is place for us there!

Look back and learn from our Rig Vedic Culture and Awaken your “Aadya” (Goddess within)

Now is the time to – Grab the Broom and Vroom! Happy Women’s Day

What Marathon taught me about Culture

Many would agree that when we talk of culture it’s largely if not entirely in context of organizations and countries or even families but running is not something that comes naturally to mind. Till a week ago, It certainly didn’t to mine.

The sound of the drum beats and pounding footsteps at the crack of the dawn on Sunday morning made me change my view. I woke up to the Mumbai Marathon! What a sight it was. Unending streams of people tirelessly running for unity, camaraderie, love, diversity and many other causes but most of all for themselves.

For many it was simply a cacophony of motley noise, vibrant colours and jostling human bodies to all running to get ahead. But I saw a lot more that day.

I saw countless people lined up alongside the road cheering the runners, dozens of volunteers hand out water to them and I saw the sea dotted with fishermen boats keeping an eye on the marathon.

What deeply struck me – wasn’t this Culture in action. After all, if culture is defined as set of symbols, rituals, beliefs and behaviours, wasn’t I seeing all of that in its full glory. What else could it be but our deep rooted spirit of sportsmanship that made us get out of bed at 5am to cheer strangers, our notion of hospitality that had us giving energy bars to folks we would never see again, our ingrained sense of oneness that had us rub knees and ankles of the runners just so they would not get cramps.

In corporate parlance, we would call this visible manifestation of Culture. This would be seen as demonstration of our Values and Behaviours, those of One Team, Honour, Collaboration, Energy, Drive, Respect and more. If that was the case and it certainly seemed like that to me, standing by the road watching this symphony of motion, why was that in an organizations, we had to meticulously craft our Values and Behaviours, bring employees to classroom to acculturate them into it, spend time and money to paint our walls with them, hard wire them into core processes such as hiring, performance management and recognition so everyone would “live them” and no one could short circuit them. Why indeed?

Is it that organizations say one thing and do another, is it we decorate our walls with one message and behave in another, is it we train for values and reward for results, is it we encourage competitiveness and expect collaboration, it is we celebrate aggression and ask for camaraderie. Is it? And expect culture to be the panacea!

As the marathon slowly started to come to an end, I saw people rush out to help the stragglers, offer them rides back home and clap equally hard for them, for indeed in great endeavours it is glorious to even fail.

By talking about Culture in hushed tones of reverence, by conjuring visual imagery of Values as an Iceberg, are we making “Much ado about Nothing”. Perhaps we should just put organizational processes, policies and practices in place which feel right – Fair to Company and Fair to Employee and Culture will take care of itself.

Meanwhile, Mumbai celebrated the victory of all its forty thousand runners, those who won, those who beat their time and those who simply ran!

Demystifying Change and Transformation…

We have heard it being quoted often that “Change is the only constant”, “Change is inevitable”, even that “Change is the law of nature”. Coupled with the word Transformation every organization today is talking about, the waters get muddied even further. But when we begin to say “Change is law of life”, it’s time to demystify it!

The epic “Tryst with Destiny” speech made by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru on the 14th August 1947 the eve of India’s independence speech says “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends……..” This celebrated speech marked the start of journey of Change and Transformation for India and rest is history – political, economic and social.

When I type Change on the Google search bar – it throws up 1 Billion results and the word Transformation throws up 75 million. Golly, I thought to myself – what does one write about which has not been written before. Tough task indeed; but relatively easy when you are in the midst of mammoth scale of organisational Change and Transformation in the history of corporate India.

Unprecedented and non-stop Change is the norm for organizations now and “the future is already here” said William Gibson. Increasing competition, globalization, technological changes, financial upheaval, political uncertainty, changing workforce demographics, and other factors are forcing organizations to Change faster and differently than ever before.

Change and Transformation have become the new buzzwords. Be it politics, business, schools, economics, corporations both have gained enormous attention in the past few years. More often than not Transformation and Change are used interchangeably although there is a stark difference in the meaning. “Change is the consequence of Transformation

Change is defined as modifying the way things are done by altering the management structures and business processes. Change can be incremental or quantum in nature. The Changes could be of different types like, Social, Technology/digital and organisational Change. Organisational Change is more about changes in the structural, process, and people.

Transformation is what happens when you see the world through a new lens of knowledge and are able to create things, never before envisioned, for the future. Transformation is motivated by survival, by the realization that everything needs to Change or the organization will die; that a significant breakthrough in mind-set is needed in order to pursue new opportunities. It is a longer process, more internal and requires strong commitment and conviction by those involved in the process.

Let me paint a visual for you by taking few examples from the animal kingdom, organisations and people to exemplify what is Change & what is Transformation.

Examples Nature Companies People
Change Chameleon changes its colour Xerox from Photocopier to document to technology company Amitabh Bachchan evolved to medium of TV from Cinemas
Transformation Caterpillar transforms into a butterfly Apple – Transformed the way people used technology – literally reinvented the “reinvention business” Buddha – theory of Impermanence

As per Indian mythology every time the universe was in trouble or required social awakening numerous gods would take human form in order to bring about the necessary Transformation and set the world on the right path

If I were to share the global landscape, almost every organisation undergoes some form of Change or embarks on the journey of Transformation be it through restructuring, reengineering, rightsizing or right aging in order to keep pace with the competitive world. Transformation relates more to the culture, belief and the mind-set of the people, while technology or process changes are just the enablers to bring about the desired Change. Needless to mention that Transformation in the VUCA world is increasingly becoming more challenging given the transient nature of the Change itself. As you move towards your desired Transformed end state your expectation from the end state would have already evolved during your journey and again the end state seems like a failure. Hence an ability to foresee the desired Change 4 years ahead and then working backwards is what will bring about the desired output.

Coming closer home in India the last decade has been fraught with social, economic and technological changes. Organisations in India have very unique characteristics. They are more owner driven, have multi-generational workforce, and diverse political – socio environment. As humans we’re wired to be wary of Change. Neuroscience is showing that we experience potential threats to status, certainty, and autonomy as painful. Real Change puts all of these in flux. And for many of us these are a matter of pride. Hence more often than not large-scale organizational Transformation seems unpredictable, fickle, and irrational.

The only way to make change palatable is to ensure that that there is a common framework, set of words and language. It is important to have common definition, approach and process to be successful. It should be integral to overall plan of the company and not just an add-on event. Change needs to be driven, role modelled and reported.

Failed changes can be costly, demoralize employees, reduce competitiveness, and start an organization on the road to mediocrity or obsolescence. The problem exists because few people responsible for change understand how to manage change.

With this as a backdrop, today’s organizations need to ensure they are leading from the front to bring both mind-set and skill change in the leadership and overall workforce of the organization. There are 3 core pillars which have the potential to really change the game for the organization

  1. Learning – which has be at learner’s behest, bite sized aka Micro learning and available on need to know basis (JIT). The tools of learning that companies need to leverage are MOOC, Gamification, Wearable technology and Mobile Apps – the underlying concept being – “Go where the learners already are!”
  2. Leadership – has to change gears from being command & control, instructional & reviewer, hierarchical to collegial to being co-creating & empowering, “walk, indeed run the talk”, the underlying concept being – “There is huge value in minds of all, trigger it off”
  3. Performance – agile and progressive companies have to know that today people believe there is more to life than doing the job and getting paid for it. They have to provide meaning and purpose to its workforce – “Give them a dream and an opportunity to leave a legacy behind”

Developing champions who understand how to initiate, facilitate, and implement needed change is an alternative that offers considerable potential for addressing this important topic. Deploying psychology of change management can accelerate change too (Theory of cognitive dissonance – which talks about giving people purpose, theory of conditioning and positive reinforcement which clearly states that  reward, recognition and performance systems in the company must be aligned to desired outcome, theory of adult learning which details out the fact that we should let people absorb the change, allow them use it experimentally and then get them integrate in their current processes and finally the theory of adult behaviors which states that people need role models and leaders who “walk the talk”. If an organization can play the different instruments of music seamlessly, change is guaranteed almost magically!

Let me paint the picture for you using 2 illustrations.

Every company today has started to talk about their almost fanatical focus on employee engagement. In the corridors of HR leadership, there is constant chatter about how we need to empower and energize our employees, how should we make the company ecosystem and environment conducive and how to find innovative and real time ways to listen to what employees are saying! There are employee engagement surveys, employee satisfaction survey, pulse surveys, happiness surveys and whole host of other ways companies have started to “listen” to their workforce. Indeed some have deployed very innovative and technology enabled ways as well, such as “Click a Glad-Sad-Mad-Bad smiley button on a flat screen as they come in and go out of workplace to capture emotions real time or leave a message on company’s internal blog site sharing how they feel and what they want.

To my mind, unless done for dramatically different reasons, it is but mere entrapment’ that we are talking about for our people. By laying out long and complex roadmaps to actually increase organization productivity, advocacy and “win the eternal war for talent”, companies will only achieve incremental changes not long lasting transformation. Marginally making minor tweaks to processes, systems and policies hoping natural cycles of evolution over a period of time will make the change impactful, sustainable and meaningful, which it will, but only the landscape would have changed by then again and thus the eternal cycle of change will begin yet again!.

Or we could start with end in mind; work towards making quantum leaps, build a blue print to transform the workplace and then get into execution. There is enough knowledge out there to tell us, what’s changing both within the DNA of millennial employee as well in the technological world. We are truly at the “tipping point” with the meshing of workplace megatrends such as millennia’s, social, globalization, connectedness powered by technology, rise of gender diversity and innovation and more than ever before, the time is ripe for transformation.

Another big change that we have begun to see at the workplace is migration of talent from global MNC’s to Indian conglomerates. While earlier the MNC’s were considered mecca of learning and opportunities, place where a person learnt about structure, models and process there has recently being a rapid shift in the way employees have started to embrace the working ways of Indian companies. I attribute this change to 2 key reasons :

  1. The times are different, we are in a VUCA world already, so people have started to adapt to the volatility, uncertainties, complexities and ambiguous ways of working, something that Indian companies are intrinsically good at, in fact, an attribute they evaluate in a candidate while hiring them. The larger socio-economical-politically environment coupled with technology explosion has taught emerging talent the value of agility, manageability of their projects and careers and concept of “personalization” while operating in a world of “globalization”
  2. The other significant transformation that we have begun to see if the rise of entrepreneurship and start-ups. Its reasons are many, funding for start-ups is available easily with angel investors looking to put in the seed capital, spirit of risk taking is all time high, world is now flat so market place has grown hugely, social media has reduced set up and infrastructure cost and innovation is being funded by the both government and corporates. What Indian organizations do is get a person to think more “end to end”, inculcate ownership mind-set given the fact that both strategy and design as well as execution and implementation has to be done here in India compared to MNC where thought leadership comes from their HQ’s in US or Europe and SOP, template driven work gets done out of India.

Change involving movement of talent to Indian companies as well as transformation of workforce from being mere employees to becoming entrepreneurs are great examples which elucidate what Change and Transformation is playing out in the Indian workplace.

In conclusion, what I would say is that Change is a process of evolution while Transformation is disruptive and innovative. Change is inevitable and reversible, Transformation is internal and completely non-reversible. Change occurs with a desire to improve the past while Transformation is driven by future orientation, constrained only by the limit of our imagination, conviction and courage.

In organizational context, it is apt to say that “Transformation prescribes vision and Change subscribes to vision”!

 

In a VUCA world – Forewarned is Forearmed

We may well be in the midst of a revolution to bust the established theory of “Six degrees of separation” – which states that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away from any other person in the world, so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect two people in a maximum of six steps.

Our world as we know it, is “shrinking rapidly” due to this ever increasing connectedness of human beings. Despite great geographical distances, human networks fuelled by technology have made actual social distances smaller. So let’s understand what’s going on :

1. Intersection of four major trends in technology: social media, explosion of big data, mobile revolution and emergence of wearable computing (Apple Watch, Google Glasses) has redefined concepts of Space and Time

2. Rapidly shifting demographics like gender, age, employment status, mobility, earning capabilities have resulted in rise of individualism and value shift in society, where people are starting to explore the meaning, purpose and identity in their professional and personal life.

3. Economic rebalancing has reached a tipping point in the way that global balance of economic power is shifting from developed to developing countries. As this trend continues it will have increasing impact on where growth opportunities are for companies and professionals and augur well for us to stay “nimble on our feet” and “learn on the run”.

Wikipedia defines Environmental scanning as “the study and interpretation of political, economic, social and technological events and trends which influenced a business and industry or even a total market”. Hence its critical for our personal and professional success, dare I say even survival to be constantly cognizant of our environment given it’s a VUCA world.

SHRM India Annual Conference on 25th and 26th September 2014 at Gurgaon with its theme of CONNECT – INSPIRE – GROW is designed to give us an immersive experience to be able to “Scan the environment”. Join me as we discuss Stimulating Workplaces: Creating a learning Culture at 1:45 PM on 26th September 2014 – Panel Discussion which will explore current and emerging social, economic, political, legal, and regulatory changes which make “environmental scanning” a critically important activity.