In Search of Unknown Angels!

800 371 Kamal Karanth

The paradox of how employers constantly discount their employees dreaming about their imaginary perfect employee working elsewhere.

“I am very clear; I don’t want to hire any more freshers said my business head. I want someone who hits the road straightway. After watching Ritu and Janet, I can say this with the experience she continued. Ritu doesn’t even know how to write emails, and Janet needs too many follow-ups. Moreover, these millennial kids work with an entitlement mindset,” she lamented.

We were wrapping up a meeting, and my boss asked me to stay back. He said, “I think we need to replace Raj, our new BU head; it’s almost 9 months since he has joined, he does not own up the role, he is constantly blaming the past instead of building the future, too much of negativity. Please counsel him. If he doesn’t change his mindset in the next 3 months, please hire an executive search firm to find a replacement,” and he walked off.

I go through similar feelings all the time. This recurring thought has been around for decades in my head and every day refreshed by events caused by my colleagues. Why do I always feel that my dream team is out there and not with me? What do my colleagues do that drift my mind towards ‘imaginary ideal professionals’ outside of my sight/influence?

My perfect colleagues are somewhere out there working for someone else. My current struggle is to find them. But I know how they look like. Every day, people like me keep dreaming of hiring him/her someday to solve the current problems/opportunities we have.

Expiry Date Syndrome

It’s not that we are very hopeful of our new hires either. When we put that probationary clause in the employment contract, we probably start with an exit clause for ourselves. It’s like a pre-nuptial contract where one expects/suspects that things can go wrong. These clauses allow us to be in constant suspicion of our new hire. Though we would have hired them for a certain role and evaluated them for certain qualities, our own judgment of them changes post-hiring. Once we start experiencing new employees against our unsaid expectations, our opinions change.

“The PM we have hired is horrible in morning team meetings; I heard him yelling at his team yesterday whispered the HR manager during our coffee break. We got great reviews from his customers about his timely deliveries and his technical know-how I shot back.” Yes, we did not budget for this side of him.

“I don’t have to manage product breakdowns now, but people breakdowns, she complained. Please extend his probationary period or take a call on him during the confirmation discussion,” she suggested. Just like perishable food or drugs, we seem to think of thresholds with people with certain timelines. Unfortunately, this expiry date mindset is based on fewer experiences than fact-based. Unlike in personal life where we try hard to stay in the relationship, at work, we have many escape clauses like probationary period, annual appraisals, promotional discussions through which we knock off people.

The Angels

An entrepreneur struggling with his new venture once showed the next floor of our coworking floor as we were leaving for the day. It was 9 PM in the night, and employees in that EdTech were still working. He said, “we are still making losses, and my team shuts up at 630 and works 5 days a week. I think in my next lot of recruitment, I should hire few people from here.”

I got curious about this new start-up full of youngsters burning the midnight oil and seemed super busy. I caught hold of one of the youngsters working in that start-up the next day at the cafeteria.

He said, “actually, I want to leave this company, but they pay me an above-market salary, and I can’t get a job at this salary for a fresher like me. If any of us don’t achieve our target for two consecutive months, we will be asked to leave”. I liked the energy on your floor, I said. The youngster smiled and shot back, “the grass is greener on the other side. Let me know if there is any vacancy in any company which works 5 days a week. Most of us here would die to join a company like that.” I couldn’t hold but ask,

“Would you take a salary cut to work in a company that gives you that ‘me time.” No, I still have my student loan EMI going on, he said.

When I conveyed this to my entrepreneur friend, he wasn’t enthused about hiring people from that EdTech any longer.

Remote Work learnings

I think we equate our colleagues to be constantly perfect, and any form of breakdowns in behavior, efforts, performance, developments, relationships are difficult to fathom. We want ideal, aligning behaviors all the time, and any imperfections on any of those aspects upset us, and our patience starts waning on our colleagues. However, We don’t/can’t give up on our children or personal relationships so easily, can we? My guess is that we are well trained for imperfect behaviors at home, and we need to bring now those learnings of dealing with challenging situations with spouses, kids, parents to work. The last year of work from home experience has blurred the walls of home and work. I am proposing we also closely compare/reflect the experiences at home and see if we are equally ready to nurture our imperfect colleagues as we do with our kith and kin.

Look Within

I wish we spent more time nurturing our colleagues and their talent than constantly thinking of the angels outside. It’s a great escape to think of some unknown professional who will come and solve your technology, marketing, sales, HR, finance problems. Think honestly about how many times your new external hires solved your issues vs. your current team members. I doubt if your data overwhelmingly supports unknown angels creating more breakthroughs for you. Even if it does, what does it tell you about your leadership? You aren’t the one who can build, create, inspire talent to create performance under you?

I am guilty as charged!

“If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.” Oprah Winfrey.

Warning: we are Busy bee leaders!

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Leaders are also judged by the experience they give to their stakeholders or only the financial impact on the organisation?

I get 200 emails per day, lamented my colleague when I pointed my emails going unanswered, we are not CEO’s, labour class she replied with sarcasm. I felt guilty that we had created a world like that for her but could offer no solution to her inbox issues.

Business Statistics site DMR reports that an average worker gets 121 emails per day. We all know how many such can be humanly answered.

One of our GMs promptly used to leave the office at 6 PM even though most of us could never finish work before 9 PM. He was running the most successful businesses at that time and role model for many. We used to frown at his back and bickered that it must be easy to be in a leadership position like him, as most of us at the bottom of the pyramid were slogging for him. A few years later, he took on a struggling business that was making massive losses. We saw his intensity increasing but never saw 2 AM emails or weekend working. In about 2 years, we saw that business turning around to be a jewel for the organisation. He never complained of bandwidth or pressure, whenever we met him we saw him as a great leader with high energy, new plans and he gave lots of practical advice and best practices to us. He used to say, “Double down deep, don’t expand too much.”

External Impact

“I will take the call on the way to the airport,” I told my colleague. She promptly organized the call. That was my way of optimizing my busy schedule. I had to interview a prospective employee for the organisation. The call dropped multiple times thanks to the network, and then we were stopped by cops as the cabbie was over speeding; I had to get down to intervene. We finally reached the airport after these interventions and concluded the call as I got off the cab. She promptly texted me a few hours later, stating she did not want to pursue a role with us further.

I felt embarrassed reading her long text, which said the experience left her feeling less valued on who she was. She counted that call dropped 7 times, and the numerous breaks meant it was a call done to fit into my busy schedule than evaluating the fitment with any real intent. If the role were important, we possibly would have been sensitive on how we went about scheduling and conducting the interview. I could only apologise and let her move on. Was she overreacting, or were we plain insensitive? Were we acting like a large corporation? I was left thinking how little things can make a positive difference… but her feedback was indeed helpful advice.

Internal Acceptance

It was day one of the new sales guys in the office, and When I met him in the evening for his induction, he mentioned his boss, the sales head, is yet to meet him. He said he has been busy with client calls since morning. Though they had a scheduled call, it had to be postponed. He wasn’t complaining. He said as a sales guy, I understand that clients come first. I am sure you must have seen many joinees loitering around the office waiting for the busy senior colleagues to meet them. Is the organisation at fault for making the leaders busy or accepting the culture of leaders being busy?

On another occasion, we missed a press release deadline. My marketing associate said he couldn’t find enough time on his calendar and was stretched to meet the pre-decided deadline.

Should we argue that the above 2 examples, thought different contexts, might be outliers to many meetings held timely and deadlines being met? Quite possible!

However, there are many signals one gets about the poor experiences that impact lives of employees and customers get because your leaders are always busy?

The Signs

How do you know that the organisation is affecting the experiences of its key stakeholders like employees, customers, and partners?

  1. When your leaders are not available most of the time and you find them continuously saying, “I am busy, bandwidth Nahi hai.”
  2. Leaders missing deadlines, Not turning up for meetings, taking ages to respond to emails or WhatsApp’s
  3. Their reportees constantly crying to get their leaders time and sending “gentle reminders”
  4. Constant rescheduling of reviews/meetings
  5. Phones always busy, and the call backs taking its own sweet time

How I wish there was a comprehensive book or a pocket guide on these signs for new leaders to use as a desk reference. Would call that a Busy Leader’s Handbook!

The Outcome

Could the following be the predictable outcomes when we have busy leaders?

a)  Low engagement

b)  Low productivity

c)  High Attrition

d)  Customer loss

HBR says

An HBR study, that can be a great training tool, plotted a Focus_Energy matrix which identified 4 types of behaviors in managers; disengagement, procrastination, distraction, and purposefulness.

While both focus and energy are positive traits, neither alone is sufficient to produce the kind of purposeful action organizations need most from their managers and their team members. Poor time management and focus without energy devolves into listless execution or leads to burnout. Energy without focus dissipates into purposeless busyness or, in its most destructive form, a series of wasteful failures. Building high-performance companies requires not just the best talent but also smart leadership decisions and employee engagement.

This study exemplified that only 10% of the managers spend time in purposeful activities, 30% spend time in procrastination, 20% are disengaged, and 40% are distracted. So, now you know how 90% of managers are busy although they dutifully perform routine tasks—attending meetings, writing emails, making phone calls, and so on—they fail to take the initiative, raise the level of performance, or engage with strategy. These people coast along in the chronically passive state that psychologist Martin Seligman called it “learned helplessness.”

Proportion of meaningfully engaged senior executives seems to one of the common business challenges for organizations of all sizes!

Describing Busy

If you find yourself jumping from meeting to meeting, dousing fire after fire, checking countless Emails/WhatsApp’s constantly, making or taking countless calls, feel like taking a vacation every month or sense perpetual need for a deputy to manage half of what you are doing, then you are like me, one of the proud and busy leaders.

The question we need to ask ourselves is if we are distracted, disengaged, or a procrastinators or want to be like one of my GMs described in the beginning, a purposeful good leader with high energy and high focus all through his years of experience.

When I started my career, I found myself busy learning the job. When I worked for a start-up for the first time, I felt there weren’t enough resources and we stretched till we collapsed. When I became a manager for the first time in an MNC leadership role, I worked long hours to show efforts give results, and when finally I became a CEO, I was busy traveling, and then as an entrepreneur, I choose to be busy working 80 hours a week and training to become a better leader.

Pre-Covid I spent 2 hours a day traveling and now in remote working, I still end my day at 8 pm.

Maybe I chose the wrong set of employers or roles


I like to be a busy bee?

my first lie before many

My first Lie before the Many…..

800 371 Kamal Karanth

We all frown upon people who lie to us at work; we call it integrity and, in many cases, like to shun such colleagues first time or on repeated lies. 

Keep it to yourself, for now, as it is still confidential” is a famous overused line with our favorite colleagues. Has this phrase unknowingly created a huge trust issue across the organization between managers and their teams. Team members judge/trust their manager based on how they fairly disseminate information. As a leader/manager, I have found myself fairly inconsistent over a period of time on this issue. I can’t say if I lied, exaggerated, withheld information due to my role or the context I was in. One thing is true I was economical with the truth on many such occasions in the name of contextual confidentiality. Now, when I look back, I can clearly trace those roots.

First Interview

There were above 400 people in the MG road hotel compound when I walked in for my first job interview. I felt like walking away, intimidated by the atmosphere and the sheer number of people in suits & ties waiting for their turn. The energy and smart conversations around me were simply overwhelming. I made a few friendly conversations with other first-time jobseekers as I waited for my turn to be interviewed. I was eventually called in and told that I was shortlisted for the written test and needed to come the next day. But the interviewer told me strictly that I can’t tell this anyone outside. If anyone asks, I was to share that I will be informed later once everyone is screened.

As I came out, one of the candidates whom I had befriended also walked out of another room after his screening round. He looked happy, and We walked together to the bus stand, sharing our experiences. He mentioned that he did well and he would be informed later once everyone is screened. I shared with him the feedback I got too. As he left for his bus, I felt very uneasy about the situation. It wasn’t the first time I had lied. I had done that maybe a million times with my parents, which wasn’t new for me.

I was worried if he too turned up tomorrow for the written test and how awkward it would be if I bump into him. I walked in the next day uneasily anxious about facing him than about passing the written test. Luckily I did not see him there and went on to pass the written test too. After that, the drill while waiting for the interviews was similar. We made new friends, but we would lie to each other on the same topic, though some of us knew we were coming the next day. In the end couple of us got offered and joined. Luckily I hadn’t met these two joiners during interviews, and it was easier to start with them as colleagues.

So what’s the summary of all the English above? The guys who were clearing the so-called interview rounds were every day practicing the art of lying and the guys who were being rejected were telling the truth, at least on the interview results!

Lie to Lies

When I landed my first job, should I say I had successfully passed the test of lying with a straight face? I thought lying to parents about bunking classes for movies wasn’t a crime. The interview act, anyhow, was the pathway to my first job; Hence, justifiable? Later, the induction slides talked about the definition of integrity. Amongst many things, it meant violating the norms of the company, lying to bosses and colleagues. At least that’s how I understood it. Some of the colleagues were fired based on integrity. Mostly, we believed they cheated on the company either by misappropriation of companies materials or transgressing the company’s rules and, in some cases, blatantly lying to supervisors.

Exaggeration vs. Lies

In many of the internal settings, we end up confusing our colleagues. The proof of it is seen is in sales where there is a thin line between exaggeration on capability and delivery. If the customer says do you have stocks to deliver, you possibly would say off course and then come back and beg your distributor/retailer/manager to stock up because you have promised to your customer. When you see your boss exaggerating to the customer that the company has already done this before or well-staffed to execute a new project, you sort of pick up the hints that it's ok to lie as it seems harmless to win a deal or tide over a situation.

The Manager conundrum

As you grow up the ladder, you tend to specialize in this art of exaggeration or lying as you have to get exposed to them frequently. You go to a strategy meeting, and after all the discussions, you are told to please wait till the CEO officially announces it. Till then, it's confidential. Meanwhile, some of the managers would have already shared this with their confidants, and before you know, your reportees already know what you hid from them. So, it would look as though you withheld information from your team. Or, in some cases, you couldn’t contain the excitement on the new strategy that you leaked it to some of your favorite team members, and they told their friends. Everybody in the team knew about it unofficially, and you were still waiting for the official announcement. So it’s a nice game we all play knowingly, acting ignorant in the name of confidentiality. Think of that famous test you put your boss into or your reportee played on you.

Team member: I heard that there is going to be massive restructuring, and there will be layoffs

Supervisor: Who told you there is nothing like that? Won't I tell you if I knew any of these

Team MemberEveryone is talking about it, some of the managers who came back from Hq have mentioned it to their team members, Please please don’t ask who told me, But everyone on the floor is talking about it.

Then we end up admitting about the news not to appear ignorant or left out, we end up closing the conversation by saying, “keep it to yourself, it's still not official.

The Confidentiality Bollocks

The attraction of being a manager or aspiration leadership roles have been the access to information and, of course, power. It seems like every piece of information you get from the top of the decision you take is worthy of it if it remains accessible to a few, or you can share it discreetly. What’s the fun of everyone knowing everything? Imagine if every decision is announced directly to all by the CEO as soon as s/he makes it. There is no fun in it. Let’s list the information we hide or lie about in the name of confidentiality…

  1. Hiring & firings (who is coming next and who is going & why )
  2. Promotions, new vacancies, new projects, restructuring
  3. Salary freeze, cuts, bonus payouts, next offsite, overseas trips

We can argue that these are delayed information and not lying per se. But, every time any of our team members ask us about any of the above, we can't help but say it's confidential?


There are times when we withhold the “Why” even if we know it as it would hurt the integrity of certain roles or people who are affected by it. If you know your peer/colleague got fired and one of your curious colleagues asked ‘why’ it would be difficult to share the information even if you know s/he were terminated. So, there are many situations where not being truthful at the moment is not equivalent to lying. But, when your boss asks why you are leaving and you replying that “taking a break, going overseas, pursuing studies” and then joining competition next week is a lie, however, that’s done for self-preservation! So, let us park that elsewhere.

To survive, grow, self-preserve or follow instructions, we need to resort to communication patterns that might discredit the person we are or the role we hold. This may render us dishonest, liars, not trustworthy, or exaggerators in many contexts.

The Cultural Extension

The instances and the contexts I have explained might appear trivial to some of us. However, If this becomes the way, it has a huge impact on its culture and performance. Accenture’s Competitive Agility Index — a 7,000-company, 20-industry analysis, for the first time tangibly quantified how a decline in stakeholder trust impacts a company’s financial performance. The analysis reveals more than half (54%) of companies on the index experienced a material drop in trust — from incidents such as product recalls, fraud, data breaches, and C-suite missteps — which equates to a minimum of $180 billion in missed revenues.

Neuropsychological evidence suggests that lying requires higher working memory capacity, which is strongly related to IQ. As Swift said, “he who tells a lie is not sensible how great a task he undertakes; for to uphold one lie, he must invent twenty others.”

When you look into the mirror, can you recall the instances where you were economical with the truth with your colleagues and still did not feel bad about it?

Mind your own Business?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Why and when do we become a spectator in our team meetings from being an active player.

It was lunch break and day one of our leadership team overseas, my boss called me aside and said, “maybe you can be an active listener during our peer presentations, our peers have done better than last year, Our team is trailing in numbers, and this is not the time to be giving suggestions to others.”

Next few sessions, I sat through frustrated but pretended to make notes to keep my focus away. I always had a perspective on my peers 🙂 and felt I was depriving them of my valuable inputs and criticism. In my head, I was thinking, “what the heck, man, just a few quarters ago, I ran the most profitable unit, and I know a thing or two about running a business.”

However, my new silent act wasn’t missed by our CEO and HR Director. They swung by during breakfast the next morning and asked about my reticent avatar. I confessed to them about my own performance context and why it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on other businesses. I resisted my temptation to blame my boss 🙂. They asked me to keep aside my mental blocks and participate freely in the true spirit of institution-building. Their take was that we rarely meet as a leadership team, and the ideas the feedback was valuable in a neutral setting. Otherwise, each leader is in their own bubble of their team and could do better with peer feedback.


That CEO and HRD are a rare breed. I wondered what my peers in that forum must be thinking when I gave them feedback, questioned some assumptions, and criticized some of the strategies. I am pretty sure my peers must be filled with thoughts like

a. We know how to run our businesses

b. Our performance speaks for ourselves. How about you?

c. Can you clean up your house before you ask us anything?

In short, “mind your own business” is the real world when we aren’t performing ourselves.

Performance Presence

In my time with another employer, we had a different culture. One of my colleagues was usually at the top of the performance table. Her unit used to drop a few million dollars to the bottom-line constantly, and in a way, she used to fund the loss-making units in our organization. Naturally, our bosses felt she had the right for the mike, and invariably they would go to her for any inputs in our regional meetings. In that organization, it was explicit/implicit that you can speak up if you have the performance. This is not new as we have got pretty much used to this atmosphere from our schooling days where the teachers paid more attention to students who scored more. By now, many of us have gotten used to the fact that we flex our muscles when we are considered performers and shut our trap when we know that we are also in the also-ran category.

Peer Dynamics

I am sure this performance halo must be spilling on to the discussions we have with our peers too. Have you evaluated the conversation dynamics with your peers? When you are performing

Are you more opinionated and in the telling mode?
Do you ever observe your dominating tone and how you cut off your peers because you feel better?
On the other hand, when your team hasn’t delivered would you

i. Skip meeting peers if you can?

ii. Avoid eye to eye conversations or

iii. Nod your head in agreement to get over the conversation?

iv. Postpone confrontations even if the situation warrants a pushback?

Romanticizing Meetings

I am wondering how it would feel like to be in a team meeting where

1. Participants aren’t marked based on their performance

2. Conversations aren’t powered through the roles/hierarchy

3. I don’t have to sulk because I had a bad quarter/month

4. We aren’t worried about who will attack us next, the boss or the peer?

5. Or worse, someone is going to ask me to shut up because of my underperformance

6. I get the license to attack/criticize someone because I had the fortune of a great performance


I don’t have the answers but many queries for sure.

  • Would you believe your boss if they said everyone needs to participate equally in this meeting
  • Do you really believe you can make a difference to your peers by your opinions
  • Has your boss acted on the feedback you had given in the past in such meetings
  • The trust levels amongst your peer group is so high that when you offer a solution/input, it wouldn’t be considered as interference
  • You think all of your peers are considered equal, or there is an invisible Queue when it comes to whose Does opinion get heard?

And finally, do we ever have the peace of mind to offer suggestions to our peers or bosses when we ourselves feel guilty about our contribution?

Throughout my career, I dreaded going into meetings when my performance was down, I thought somebody in that meeting will openly ask me to Mind My Own Business if offer a suggestion.

So far, no one has questioned me, But I dread they would! Isn’t that how it is supposed to be?

The positive impact of colleagues’ presence and crowd pressure

800 371 Kamal Karanth

WFH lacks the co-action effect — improved showing in the midst of colleagues

Dhoni would have won us two of the three matches we lost so far in IPL had there been a typical full house crowd, lamented a CSK fan. No other person can handle the close finish pressures like Mahi, he argued. Similarly, many of my friends have felt that Kohli would perform differently in front of a packed stadium with cheering fans. I am trying to make sense of this argument and relate it to the world of work, where the talk is more about engagement and less about the pressures that bring out the best in people. But, let us admit the fact that anxiety and audience bring out the best in some of us at work too.

Sales pressure

Most sales organisations thrive on pressure. Some create the atmosphere through systems and processes; many others through their leaders’ behaviours. We used to dread meetings with our sales head when he had the mike. He used to call out in front of 50 other people the mediocre performances. However, many of us came back with stronger performances the next quarter. Of course, many of us were performing in anticipation of incentives, increments, and promotions too. But my sense of those days was that more people were worried about keeping their jobs and losing their face in front of a crowd than motivated by rewards and recognition.

The price of pressure

Wall Street assesses IPO-bound CEOs on their ability to handle pressure. Stanford professor Elizabeth Blankespoor’s study of 224 pre-IPO roadshows assessed how CEOs were perceived in terms of competence and attractiveness and the impact it had on the final IPO pricing. At these roadshows, the leaders don’t really share more than what is in the prospectus. Yet, fund managers and analysts jostle for seats at these events. They don’t come there for breakfast, but to assess the CEO’s competence, mainly how they handle the audience. These seem to make a difference in the initially proposed price and the revised final offer price. The study said a 5 per cent increase in perception scores of the CEO yields an additional 11 per cent boost in the final market price. Oh! That’s some crowd pressure on the CEO!

Templates of pressure

Everyone responds to pressure in varying degrees. Customers, competitors, bosses, colleagues, all of us. Is there a systematic way of creating it? Daily dashboards, unachievable targets, unreasonable deadlines, intimidating townhalls, team reviews, customer NPS scores, annual awards, competitor market share, are some enterprise tools used to create pressures of different kinds on multiple people.

Even simple group emails can create stress on people. Picture this: our boss used to send a monthly performance note to all his team members. If we did not find a mention in his message, we knew we were in trouble. So till his next monthly note, we used to work our back off to get the right side of his attention. His template was a public secret, and he used that pretty well.

Social facilitation

Psychologists and Sociologists have long studied “Social Facilitation” as one of the keys to performance. Social Facilitation rides on the primary impact of “Co-Action Effect” and “Audience Effect”. Their relevance is high in the current WFH and No-Audience contexts. The Co-action effect is when task performance increases by the mere presence of others doing the same task. Physically it’s about how 100-metre sprints are timed best when run against someone. Cognitively it’s about how a higher work accomplishment happens; your library versus working at home where it is equally quiet. Enterprises revelling in the cost-effectiveness of WFH could well be losing out on the advantages of the Co-Action effect. After all, worker ants were individually found to dig three times more sand per ant when working alongside peers, though not digging as a team!

Pressure at work comes in different forms. Much of it comes from expectations set by ourselves or by our bosses or the systems of the organisations.There are no prizes for just turning up anymore in the WFH world. It is now the world of delivering to the expectations. This can cause more stress than before as we are all second-guessing each other about how we are being judged. Neuroscientists who study high-performing athletes and professionals have found that the most successful deliver most under mild stress.

However, in the workplace, we refuse to acknowledge the positive impact of expectations.

First published by The Hindu Business Line on October 7, 2020

The Side Effects of Hiring from Competition

The Side Effects of Hiring from Competition

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Ever budgeted for your competitors' reaction when you pinch their talent? 

The reasons to hire talent from rivals are obvious, right? You get a trained talent with some trade secrets who can hit the road running. It’s a great bargain for the talent too as they get a premium salary while they switch over to their rival. Win, Win? Not without its share of headaches though! Ever thought of the reaction of some competitors who might be sour with you for ripping off their prized possession? What do you expect them to do?

Does your opposite number buy you coffee or sent a legal notice? I got variants of both.

Let us start with coffee ️. I was pleasantly surprised that I would be called to Starbucks for a meet just after hiring a couple of talent from them. In hindsight, it was far 'two' many. Five minutes into the meeting, I was told that skeletons were found after they left, and he was glad that I cleaned up their dirty closet. Then came the threat; if any of their clients were contacted, their lawyers were ready. It ended on a hostile note, and we paid only for our coffees and drove away!

Their CEO ensured that his meeting with me went viral with his staff so that they think twice before accepting another offer from competitors. I think it worked, and I did not recruit from them for another year.🤫 Thereafter every time I bumped into him in a coffee shop I looked over his shoulder to see who he was meeting. I knew many of his team members were joining the competition and he soon built a reputation as somebody who goes after his ex-staff and peer group. You can say he was a possessive & passionate CEO or somebody who had time for all these distractions!

On another occasion, another country, the competing CEO, sent a legal notice to our new hire within a month of she joining us. As she was privately dealing with her ex-employer through her lawyer, I got a call from her ex-CEO saying there were integrity issues that we need to be aware of and highlighted about the legal notice sent to her.   When we promptly asked for proof he said its confidential. The employee stayed with us for five years and we heard nothing really got achieved/proved except for some bad blood between the employee and the employer. Yes the competing CEO did put some doubt in our minds about the integrity of the person we had hired during the first 6 months and our antennas were up all the time.

In the world, we live in its quite possible that we will be hiring from or joining the competition 90% of the time. So, Whenever competition hires from you, is it a compliment, or should you feel cheated?

You like to visit the coffee shop and have a quite word with your competitor or prefer to frequent lawyers' office and get some sadistic kicks?

Freelancers: The life of a poet with the pay of a banker

Freelancers: The life of a poet with the pay of a banker?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

That’s the freelancers dream – but how often does reality match the vision?

Two companies in the global talent world are enjoying their moment of sunshine despite the pandemic. No, they have not pivoted to manufacture PPEs. They are in the right place, right time as freelancer platforms. On NYSE, Fiverr, and Upwork both have seen their stock prices rise by 400% and 66 %, respectively. That’s not all – they returned the faith of their investors by reporting stellar results last quarter.

Back home, we know the gig train has left the station, propelled by the pandemic. However, multiple frictions in the ecosystem inhibit freelancing from becoming mainstream for talent and enterprises.

Enterprises Utopia

60% employees, 20% contingent workers, 10%t freelancers, 5% interns, and 5 % projects to IIT students – that would be my ideal workforce distribution of tomorrow,” declares a CHRO of a large IT MNC.

In a crisis like this pandemic, such a flexible talent map would have been ideal. But, it’s easier said than done. Organisations do not have the technology, process, or structural support to execute such a plan. Already, there is a struggle to hire full-time employees on time. Culturally integrating full time and contract workers is a continuing challenge for HR. Throw freelancers to that mix, and it becomes more complicated. Even if enterprises are keen to get freelancers, sourcing them in time is going to be their Achilles heel.

The Talent Dilemma

In a recent survey of freelancers, when asked why they opted for gig work, a respondent said, “To be the master of my own destiny.” However, does the reality match? Of 1,000 freelancers surveyed recently, 46% admitted that they had lost their work/clients during the current pandemic. A study by Dinghy, an insurance provider to freelancers and self-employed, says more than 50% freelancers felt they over-served their clients, and 30% said they don’t get paid by their customers at all.

38% of the freelancers said getting new work and customers were the most significant challenges. Unlike full-time employment, income continuity is not guaranteed as a freelancer. Moreover, as a single point of responsibility, 98% of freelancers admitted they were working even during time off as they are in charge of everything.

Freelancing also means coming to the open world and being rated by customers constantly, Many of us sulk when our boss privately rates us poorly and quit our jobs. Are we ready for public reviews on our gig work?

The Ecosystem Development

A 2017 Deloitte global study said 65 % of millennials prefer full-time employment over freelancing. Freelance flexibility with full-time stability is what the millennials were seeking. The reasons are easy to comprehend. Besides the income security, most employers provide for insurance, Mediclaim & retirement benefits. Getting EMI-based loans for housing, vehicle, and related borrowings is seamless if you have a full-time job. As a freelancer, many of these benefits aren’t easy to obtain when you show erratic income in your bank statements. Also, paying a premium to a freelance job is yet to become a norm. A wage premium acts as a security for a potential income discontinuity. If gig jobs aren’t financially lucrative, then aspiration for them will reduce, and it would only remain the bastion of unskilled workers for whom it’s not a matter of choice but survival.

Frictionless Employment

For gig to become a way of work, freelance platforms need to provide multiple benefits. The most significant are steady income, insurance benefits, and continual up-skilling opportunities. The friction of skills, salary, location, and timing needs to be eased. For enterprises too, the same four factors need to be addressed to embrace gig workers as a strategy. The 2010 Nobel prize-winning DMP model (a framework for analyzing unemployment, the formation of wages, and job vacancies) can be an excellent base to understand the job search friction and then address the structural challenges facing the freelancing ecosystem.

The Paradox

Employers want flexibility in their workforce to manage the peaks and troughs of business. Talent wants income security for their career planning. The irony is that full-time employees want their current income but desire the lifestyle of a freelancer and the freelancers wish to have the benefits of a full-time employee.

As one of the respondents in the freelancer survey said, ‘the life of a poet and the income of a banker’ would be an arrangement most of us would be happy about.

First published by The Hindu Business Line on September 10, 2020

The ‘back to office’ rush — is it wise?

The ‘back to office’ rush — is it wise?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Are corporates adequately geared up to be back at the office or making a hash of it?

Quick Base, the 1 billion $ SAAS company, hired Ed Jennings as their new CEO this May. However, he is yet to visit their Massachusetts headquarters. That shouldn’t be surprising anymore. But still, I need to ask you this!

How many of you are itching to go to the office, sit in the cafeteria, and have a cup of coffee with your favorite colleagues? I am sure many of us are raring to go depending on the roles we play and the trust levels we have with our employers and colleagues. But the tone of the majority of employees globally and in India is of caution. Almost half of the employees polled by PWC in the USA recently said safety measures like mandatory testing and temperature checks before going onsite still don’t inspire confidence. Back home the survey by FYI recently highlighted that more than 93% of workers were anxious to return to the office on fear of their health being compromised.

Safety or Normalcy

So, where do we draw the line between the safety of employees and the enterprise need to declare a return to normalcy? Employers who house a large number of office workers are thoroughly confused.

When I heard that one of my entrepreneur friends had terminated their office lease, I thought the business must have been affected severely. However, when I spoke to him, he said, “I don’t want to risk the lives of my employees and their dear ones just because I feel there are advantages of being at the office. After all, in the work we do, most of us are still productive, and our work can still be done out from anywhere.”

However, not every enterprise can carry out its work in the remote model. From Textiles to many manufacturing units where hands and legs do the job, physical presence is inevitable. However, for knowledge-based organisations and roles which can be worked from anywhere, what’s driving the rush back to the office? The recent outbreak of Covid, some even leading to death at a few large Indian enterprises, begs the question. Is India Inc making hash out of the return to the office? What’s playing out inside the enterprises which otherwise can continue WFH but still preferring to come back to the office?


The Real Estate angle

In the USA, Amazon and Apple have invested billions of dollars in sparkling new facilities that can house thousands of employees. Large Indian cities have also seen large enterprises and real estate companies making significant commitments to constructing huge sprawling offices. These investments will be weighing on the CFO’s mind when they are advising their CEOs. Some of the Enterprise facilities are so large that social distancing in the office might be possible by working in shifts or rostering of employees. Employers sure will take care of the hygiene and safety of employees in offices, but they might be ignoring a critical angle, the commute. Most employees have to use multiple modes of public transport to reach their place of work, and that increases the touchpoints. How will that safety be accounted for, and who shall be responsible for that?

Caught in the past

“Our CEO thinks all the leaders coming to the office give the right signal to our staff said a Technology company CXO. So, in the last few weeks, we are in the office and conducting our work from the confines of our cabins, he said. Even with my EA, I speak on skype, all my DRs are in their own offices, and we communicate on Zoom he continued.”Can these video interfaces not happen from home?” I asked; He smiled and alluded that “our CEO believes that working in the office increases collaboration and we have limited voice in this matter.  In our internal surveys, most employees still don’t want to come but are forced to sign declarations about their willingness to report due to the nudge.” The point here is not about who is calling the shots but how we are caught in the past about work processes.

Are some of the leaders refusing to change to the new way of working? Why should our past templates of getting together for whiteboarding, sitting across the aisle, be the only proven way of teamwork? Is it time for new hacks to ideation, teambuilding than physically being together? 


One of the arguments passionately and forcefully made by many leaders is that influential company culture is not built at the confines of home, and long term productivity cannot be assured in a WFH mode. Agree, that’s how we built organisation cult with leadership charisma in physical proximity. Isn’t the threat to life severe enough to think and discover new ways of building culture? For long, global enterprises have had distinct local identities despite touting certain common corporate cultures. Though the posters across the offices used the same words, the behaviors had distinct differences across geographies.  Maybe for a brief period, we can now take Employee Health Responsibility seriously and worry about our culture during peacetime?

Mental Health

There are new collateral damages for enterprises that might have saved travel costs and real estate expenses due to WFH. They need to be worried about the stress employees are going through due to job security concerns and working from home pressure. For example, some of the working mothers feel the burden has increased exponentially as work and family responsibilities have now doubled down at home. Some are cooped up alone in their apartments; a large number of young Indian IT workers are at the confines of their crowded PGs. WFH has also increased work hours at home, blurred the boundaries between office and home, moreover, work has stretched to weekends.  Most of our homes are not designed for WFH, and the lack of physical separation of work is increasing stress; This may not be good for our mental well-being if this continues.


ls getting employees to the office the best solution from the WFH stress? Would we not further increase the anxiety of safety concerns with Covid-19 rapidly spreading across the country?

For organisations which need their employees only to apply their cognitive ability, it’s essential to try newer methods to address engagement, collaboration, culture, productivity, and mental health. Getting workers to office, because that’s the only tool that worked in the past, will be endangering the lives of colleagues who trusted us as employers!

Post Covid leaders of the organization will be remembered for the empathy and compassion towards their colleagues. The rush to the office is thus avoidable!

This is a column published in The Hindu Business Line.

What’s your managerial hack?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

In your team do people respond better to

1. Engagement?

2. Rewards and Recognition?

3. Competition?

4. Pressure?

5. Naming and Shaming?

We can argue 2 and 3 are the same as in a way we recognize only the winners and leave out the also-ran. In my view, we use all of them interchangeably, depending on how motivated or frustrated we are about our teams!


I wonder if it’s our individual make up that drives our managerial behavior…Meaning if we are wired to respond better to competition, that’s the tool we possibly use more? Many of us are used to the competition thanks to our education system, and maybe it has become part of our DNA.


Is the culture of the organization/team that drives any of the above?

I know culture is an often overused/abused term for everything that happens in any enterprise. But, we observe a prevalent behavior across the organisation (call it culture), which could be any of the above.


It’s the Context that drives our behavior as a manager? I remember once sitting with my buddy and bitching about my team and how I am building pressure on them. He asked me; I thought you believed in engagement and quoted some of my past tenures to remind me. I certainly felt embarrassed. However, I justified saying that this Context is different though I got refreshed with the flashback of engagement!

When I look back, I can recollect that I have used all of them knowingly or unknowingly. But, when you look at the results of “best employers to work,” one can clearly see rewards and recognitions as something that stands out.

Let me ask you as a manager whats your “Go to tool” or what does your manager use more often to get the best out of you?

What’s your interview wait time?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

“All the 3 rounds of #interviews, the average wait time was about 45 minutes” when she brought that stat out, I wondered, is Interview Wait Time (IWT) a metric worth measuring?
We already measure many things like time to hire, quality of hire (still fuzzy), cost per hire, and not to forget how many we hired.

Let us say #hr gave hiring managers a score on

1) The average time to respond to a CV
2) Time taken to allot an interview schedule
3) Number of reschedules per interview
4) Average waiting time per interview
5) Number of days taken to give feedback post-interview

Don’t forget the numerous follow-ups in between to nudge for each of the processes to take place.

We do take post-hiring feedback on a scale of 10 on different parameters. But, the ‘experience’ of getting hired is often ignored when we get the salary, title, role of our choice, and some of us might be generous or forget things like wait time.
Let’s do an average waiting time for an enterprise if they

a) Interviewed 4 people for every each hire
b) Recruited 200 people a month
b) Did 3 rounds of interview
c) Had an average wait time of 30 minutes

Thats 4 x 200 x 3 x 30 = 72,000 Minutes per month 🤐

IWT🤷‍♂️ is an unwanted acronym in an overburdened hiring system. Can we ask What’s your Interview Wait Time?