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!

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.

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.

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.

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 🤐

Meet the new interviewer and job seekers

Meet the New Interviewer and Job Seeker

800 371 Kamal Karanth
As layoffs become common, will we find more honest job seekers and empathetic interviewers in days to come?

Layoffs have been like weight-loss programs for companies. But for employees, being shed as a part of an enterprise’s flab is not a great start for a job-hunt. Failed business models, poor management and client losses — the usual answers that candidates give to explain layoffs are passé now. Even the fittest of companies have got a jolt in Covid times so can we just say Covid when asked “why” and get to the next question? But that’s easier said than done!

A Typical Interview

“Are you still with the company?” the CTO asked the VP candidate she interviewed last week. He said yes. But he was actually serving notice after being laid off. After the interview, I asked him why he said that. He said, “I thought if I told her the truth, she might think I am not good enough. “But, your relieving letter would bare it all. And you may not get this job,” I said with some agitation. This guy had three promotions in the last seven years and was a director with an Insurance Tech Company.

Then I turned my attention to the CTO and asked her why she was still asking those old questions. By that I meant checking for antecedents than focussing on skills and potential. She did not like it. But I am hoping she and many others would change their ways of interviewing and not look at laid off people with a coloured lens.

The shadow of Layoffs

Picture any job interview in the past; the interviewers and the job seekers more or less played the roles described above. The interviewer interrogates the candidate on why he or she wants to leave the current company, and checks the motive to join the current one. The job seeker gives those perfect answers covering the track on why they were leaving. Most interviewers focussed less on skills & fitment. Their eyes were on the “why” which is difficult to compare when you have multiple candidates for the same role.

The mysterious shadow of a layoff has, in the past, always lurked around while meeting a candidate. Especially in India and some of the eastern nations. Layoffs receive a different response in various geographies and cultures. Sweden supports laid off employees till they find their next job, and German enterprises allow time for a cool off, but Japan has its “chasing out rooms”. A baseline stigma, if not taboo, has always existed around layoffs in India.

I am trying hard to recollect a laid-off job seeker who walked in all peppy for an interview. The burden of a layoff, irrespective of the context or reason, is often heavy enough to dwarf the candidate.

Why You

The whole process of hiring has been done under a cloud of suspicion. CV fudging, tenure manipulations, inaccurate role descriptions, presenting inflated salaries have decreased the trust of employers. We know many employers who have rejected high potential senior leaders purely because reference checks revealed s/he was laid off or fired from the previous job. The larger let-down has been that the job seeker did not share those facts during the interview. Enterprises were right to consider these as integrity violations. However, from the job-seeker’s point of view, Indian enterprises haven’t shown enough character to accept and hire laid-off professionals easily.

Working From Home

Working from Home? What’s Missing?

800 371 Kamal Karanth
Consider this as a regret note…

Some of us maybe are struggling with burnout of Working from Home as the boundaries have blurred further. But, has Working From Home also given some of us more time to reflect?

When you look back at the time in office, anything that strikes you that you wish had you done better?

One of the things that may have become a handicap in the remote working world is our “relationships.”?

Yes, talent, hard work, creativity, productivity, or performance are what managers and organisations want from us. In our current remote avatar, we can probably demonstrate most of these. For a moment think about the many critical phases at work and how you navigated them in the past;

Decisions, buy-ins, breakdowns, conflicts & any new situations to state a few… Which was the most important influence to get through these tricky contexts besides authority? I observed it to be “relationships.” People who had great relationships got things done, and some of us who sucked at it struggled.

Some home truths about remote working

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Despite initial productivity gains, we could be overrating the benefits of ‘work from home’

“This April I am busy for a different reason,” quipped my HR friend. “Normally, this time of the year, I am busy pacifying angry employees about their hikes. But now we are busy training managers on how to work remotely and engaging employees to keep their morale high. I think after many years we are doing something new and it is exciting”.

He is not alone. An elated CXO who heads an engineering R&D told me her team’s productivity is at an unprecedented 70 per cent, something not seen when everybody was present at the office. An entrepreneur told me his collections were the highest in the last four weeks as his customers were all locked down at home and available to clear his payments.

The first month of full-time work from home (WFH) for most white-collar workers has been a godsend. People have been posting happy pictures of eating with family, time with pets, reading books and bonding with near and dear ones. I am getting diabetic about some of these new claims, which are making our working from the office of the past look like a war crime.

Not too long ago, the same employees were seen showing off the inaugurations of their new swanky offices and how they loved their cool cafeterias and gyms.

Will remote working be the new future for many roles and industries? TCS just announced that they would only need 25 per cent of their future workforce at their offices. This must be worrying office rental companies.

Maslow confused!

If 75 per cent of us worked away from the office at any given point, Maslow may have to go back to the drawing board to rework parts of his pyramid! Physical co-working and collaboration has, for long, been the only known pathway for us to climb up the hierarchy of needs. With physiological and safety needs partly sorted in a WFH mode, the remaining layers above seem a bit shaken and challenged as we talk.

Can video platforms and chat rooms replace the physical sense of connection and belonging that one draws from a workplace? In a WFH mode, where the dynamics of a physical workplace don’t play out enough, leadership may also need to be re-defined. Physical stature, charisma, and intellect have so far been experienced the best physically.

Self-actualisation remains to be reconfigured and learnt afresh if we sign up for an employee-lite arrangement. For many who rely on meetings, handshakes, and walk-around catch-ups, the world has rebooted itself, requiring grappling with the unfamiliar.

Calm before the storm

Let’s not forget we have scrambled for safety and security in the last four weeks. Many of us who hated our workplace for various reasons like travel, traffic, peers, bosses, found WFH a great escape and our energies flowed into work. We all wanted stability and continuity to our work with all the fear about the coronavirus around us.

Let’s not forget the threats of jobs, salary cuts were looming, and many of us must have worked hard to keep our jobs. It’s very similar to how we are on our best behaviour when we begin in our new jobs, trying to impress bosses and colleagues. Once the threat to our health, salaries, and jobs disappears, it will be interesting to see whether productivity levels remain the same. The other gain is with regard to workplace conflicts. Many of us haven’t had the time and opportunity to experience the friction with our pet hates at work as we were busy protecting our physical safety. Maybe it will take time to pick new enemies in a remote working model.

Not so soon… please

Is it too early for us to declare if WFH works? For every Aye, there’s a Nay! Current productivity figures are encouraging, but one needs to take it with more than a pinch of salt. With all due respect, the productivity we experience now is largely a result of immobility and absence of social engagements and distractions. Can I say it’s akin to the practice of celebrities authoring books behind bars!

Physical environmental aspects are a huge but often unrecognised factor of our productivity. The absence of traffic movement and noise around is an enabler for focus as it stands now. We should wait to see if the mind operates the same way once the movement, noise, resume, and the din begins in the neighbourhood. Wouldn’t we then rather rush back to the sound-proofed and air-conditioned comforts of the office space?

Personally, I got a glimpse as to what retirement looks through my newly declared state of work. Meanwhile, I saw one of my colleagues applying for leave yesterday citing personal work. My sarcastic self wanted to ask him why take leave? However, my respect for him went up!

Should I say, I am observing new meanings of remote working for sure!

remote working

Will Remote Working produce new Winners?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Will remote working change the pecking order of employees and leaders?

Knowingly or let’s say unconsciously organizations and bosses categorize their employees as racehorses and cart pullers. It has nothing to do with their intentions; it’s how things get measured in most teams & organizations. Flashback time…

I remember my first job, where about 40 of us were recruited fresh from college as sales executives. All of us were assembled at our corporate headquarters for a 5-week initial training program. For many of us, it was also the first time away from home, staying in a hostel, sharing rooms with two other people. At Office, there were new discoveries every week.

Week 1: The Trainers introduced us to biology, where we found people who came from a science background quickly absorbing the concepts and sharply answering the questions in no time. The rest of them were wondering why they did not study science.

Week 2: The written tests started and we saw a different set of people scoring higher (in fact, art background guys scored better). People who came from a science background were left red-faced.

Week 3: The mock sales calls started. Not surprisingly, we found new heroes in this exercise. The outgoing ones enjoyed this interaction based evaluations and winged this with ease.

Week 4: We had video cameras live recording the mock calls, and all 40 of us were observing mock sales calls made by our batchmates. Each one of us had to evaluate our peers on 22 different parameters (things like how you make eye contact, body language, following the sales process). Some of us froze in front of the camera; many couldn’t complete a 3-minute session with their mock customer.

WEEK 5: We had to make mock calls with all the brochures and medical samples to the CXOs of our organization. CHRO, CMO, MD, CFO all turned up as customers and evaluated us. In the end, they declared one of us as Topper and gave him an award. Finally, we were sent to our respective work locations (90% of us got Non-Hometown postings). Five of our batchmates were considered as failed and were given air tickets to fly back home.

6 Months later, we were called to head office for a refresher course of one week. Amongst the 35 of us, about ten were no longer in the company, including the topper. We were told that many couldn’t adapt to the fieldwork discipline and pressures. Some couldn’t handle the travel, and many understandably couldn’t adjust to being out of home and not to forget their bosses.

15 Months later, when we assembled at head office, we were about 15 people from our batch. As you can imagine, with every passing day, people either found the job difficult or the managers felt they were not fitting in. On arrival, we got to know that one of our batchmates was already promoted as manager (the first from our batch).

If you are already bored reading my story above, blame it on my WFH depression! Yes, there is a context!

So far working in offices, some of us got more personal time with our teams and bosses & have been performing at different levels.

The new remote-working the situation has changed contexts for all of us. Do you think we will see new racehorses at your organisations and teams? It’s a foreign setting (but home) for all of us. Some of us may be struggling to work alone, and even our leaders may also be struggling to support you or make you successful.

Something in me says this we might see the new context of remote working bringing productivity and success for a different set of people!

At my first job with every new context, we had new performers emerging and many quitting!

Are you the one who will take advantage of the new opportunity and change the way you perform?

Time Will Tell! Huh?