Leadership

REBEL to insure your job

800 371 Kamal Karanth

REBEL to insure your job

Invest in relationships, enterprise, behaviour, effort and learning

As an employee how would you analyse 2020? If you held on to your job, got timely salaries, were blessed with WFH, and got increments, would you call it a great year? If you landed a new job with a joining bonus and an attractive higher salary, you might even call it a bumper year, as some in the IT industry did.

“I have to stare at the same screen but speak to a different set of people via a new email id, but now I earn ₹1.5 lakh more per month without stepping out of my house,” said a friend from the IT industry who lost his job but found a new one within three weeks.

If you look at the healthy Q3 results of Infosys and Wipro, they speak for the IT industry. Yes, the job demand in the IT industry has returned to pre-Covid levels, and, last quarter, almost 30 per cent of jobseekers declined offers for greener pastures; such is the demand.

On the other hand, it would be difficult to remember 2020 if you took a pay cut, or, worse, if you lost your job. “It’s been six months since my role has been made redundant, and I am still waiting to get a suitable role,” a vice-president of a leading non-banking finance company (NBFC) complained to me. In fact, the dip in BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance) hiring in 2020 at mid to senior level was only about 10 per cent. In a pandemic year, the fact that the banking and NBFC sectors took only a 10 per cent dip is an upbeat number.

Your outlook to 2021 would obviously be based on which of the above two sets you belong to. If you go by the examples of my friends in IT and BFSI, one thing is clear. The relevance of their roles and the industry they are part of had a huge bearing on their fortunes. I chose BFSI and IT as examples as they are the bellwether industries as far as hiring numbers and frequency of job changes go.

So, how do we transition to safeguard our careers in 2021. By working on relationships, being enterprising, behaving well, putting in effort and learning. In short, being a REBEL!

Relationships

Genuine relationships in the workplace are a precious commodity. If you are close to the boss, you are ridiculed. Peers are pitted as competitors. In this perception world, we end up being transactional, and genuine relationships never blossom. But a good relationship is a must-have skill for your relevance with people around you, including customers. Where do you think you are in the relationship context in your current world? Do you only have a network or a true connection?

Enterprise

Organisations value entrepreneurial employees. Colleagues who take on stretch assignments — and risks — such as new launches, turnarounds, troubleshooting, and who are willing to relocate are darlings of bosses. You are unlikely to lose your relevance when you have a can-do attitude.

Behaviour

Remember, we hire people for their skills and fire them for their behaviours. Large enterprises need conformity. Otherwise, it’s difficult for them to control a large number of employees. Hence, they have rules, policies to protect themselves and rein in mavericks. Every enterprise has written and unsaid rules. Being in line helps. If you don’t conform, you could be the first to be made redundant when the organisation next faces headwinds.

Effort

As much as leaders claim they are fans of outcomes, secretly all of us admire our hard-working colleagues. Unfortunately, what constitutes ‘efforts’ is not well articulated. To some, it might still be late hours, weekend work, and skipping leaves. Though not healthy, if that’s your employer’s culture, you may need to show up to stay relevant.

Learning

The IT workers who were courted heavily by recruiters during the pandemic were those who had made a successful transition to digital skills. They invested in cybersecurity, learnt Python, or diversified into data sciences or new languages like Golang. These skills were in such demand that many recruiters skipped their Christmas break to headhunt them for talent-hungry tech enterprises.

You are reasonably job-insured in 2021 if you are a REBEL. The job market has got its first dose of vaccine, and there are clear green shoots. Now’s your chance to leave 2020 behind and stand in the queue.

Published first on Hindu Business Line, January 18, 2020.

Leadership and Lies

800 371 Kamal Karanth
The art of strategic deception has been perfected by most top management

The Q3 results of companies are out and the performance of most look below par.

Yet you find CEOs assuring investors that they are on the right path. You can’t expect them to say anything else, can you?

Did you follow the recent American presidential debate?

The most interesting part of both debates was the fact-checking session by channels that immediately followed. There was glaring misrepresentation on data, be it Covid cases, or claims and counter claims on how many people would benefit from the old and new health care plans.

Back in India, even before a vaccine is developed, we saw politicians promising free inoculation.

How do you interpret the claims made by leaders? Should we call it strategic deception or motivated reasoning? Motivated reasoning is described in social psychology as using emotionally-biased reasoning to produce justifications or make decisions that are most desired rather than those that accurately reflect the evidence while still reducing cognitive dissonance. Too complicated? Simply put, leaders lie knowingly because they want us to believe in what they are telling us rather than the glaring facts?

Blurred lines

Due to Covid, many organisations announced a freeze on a pay raise for the year. However, when top talent got offers from competitors, to retain them, increments were given. When the word got out, people who did not negotiate for hikes felt cheated. The leaders who publicly announced the pay freeze did not clarify later that a few were selectively given a raise. Was it too complicated to manage the new situation in public glare?

In a job induction meeting, I have seen a leader parade a couple of new managers, praising them as fast-trackers, to showcase growth opportunities to newcomers. In any company, the number of people who don’t get a promotion is significantly higher than those who get promoted. Despite such statistics, we still tell everyone that they can get promoted and create an atmosphere of competition than collaboration.

Maybe it’s a blurred line for leaders, where they are told to focus on the positive side of things, and hence some of the convenient statistics get exaggerated. Ask any leader who has high attrition in their team. They will start talking about involuntary separation and average tenure to paint a different picture and rarely admit that attrition is a problem. It’s always belief first, reason second!

CHRO

CHRO Vs CEO

800 371 Kamal Karanth
“We shouldn’t allow the Country Head to operate out of his home town” said the CHRO in a definitive voice. “It doesn’t matter as long as she delivers the goods” responded the CEO. That was the first time I saw a CHRO standing up to a CEO and I said “wow!” It turned out that the country head operated from her home town and travelled to Hq every Monday.

3 months from then that CHRO resigned and the new HR head mostly gave policy/legal inputs to the CEO. At least in public there were no disagreements. He had a longer tenure and the CEO ensured CHRO got great visibility, freedom and promotions. We heard the CEO frequently saying that the new CHRO was a great business partner.
The 3 most important factors CEOs look for while hiring CHROs are
1. Qualification (Premier Institutes)
2. Marquee Brands they have worked for
3. Positive reference (from their network)

I am excluding the other factors like cultural fit, affordability & key achievements to state a few.

What makes the CHRO successful? Many of us say you need to be business oriented for you to get a seat in the table, you need to partner with Business and many obvious factors like that. But, the most commonly accepted factor is “Can you manage the egos of the CEO and his/her reportees”. If you are in a MNC can you manage the Geo-political battles of APAC vs EMEA vs Europe and also manage your CEO.

Desperately Seeking Boring Leaders

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Start-ups, like the best-run firms in the world, need CEOs who are known by the brands they lead, rather than their own personalities. Would it be too much to ask for boring leaders than stylish ones?

I once asked a class full of MBA students to name the top unicorns in India. They named the obvious five — Ola, Flipkart, Snapdeal, Paytm, and Oyo. For the remaining names, they had to google 🙂

Then I asked for the name of the founder of the most profitable start-up in the country. The silence was deafening. Finally, someone came up with the name of BookMyShow. However, nobody could name the founder.

In that room of 100-plus students, most of them wanted to become entrepreneurs. But every time we talked about a start-up, invariably, it was about a company that had a larger-than-life founder or somebody who had raised significant funds.

Most of them felt it was survival first, so valuation and fundraising were more important than other aspects of a start-up. I couldn’t blame them as their perceptions are based on what all of us are reading, viewing and listening to.

Poster heroes

The other day I heard a prominent VC talking about the founder of a company that had recently entered the club of unicorns by raising another round of funding. Yes, it was a PR exercise, but still, when you have a company, a senior leadership team, and a unique service or differentiating product, why this focus on the founder alone?

From their last holiday to the posters they keep in the office to their latest tweets, there is way too much attention on the founders. It’s not just through PR or media alone that we know each and every detail about them — from the colour of their socks to what they do on their weekends. It seems like they themselves too like it this way, otherwise wouldn’t they be running a different kind of marketing to represent their firms better?

How many of them write blogs or podcasts or YouTube channels to promote their industry or position themselves as thought leaders? Instead, we only get to hear about their weird habits, wealth or latest tweet fights with competitors.

They seem to like the feed their PR and marketing teams send to media about their persona.

Their investors also don’t seem to find it risky to over-promote the founder over the company/idea they invested in.

Faltering founders

Many of these unicorns have struggled with toxic work cultures, governance issues, exits of key senior managers. Yet they win awards from leading media houses. What explains this romanticism about founders more than the companies they founded? We have all got carried away by the freakish behaviour of founders, which makes for great TRP.

Charismatic leaders in forums, Are they same to work with?

800 371 Kamal Karanth
We love to hear charismatic leaders speak in forums, they inspire through articles, their public personalities are magnetic! Are they ‘the same’ person to work with? Not all I guess! A couple of times I went by my one-off personal interactions and chose to work with some publicly inspiring personalities.  I think leaders or anybody for that matter don’t match their public behaviors in private! It’s not easy to be somebody else all the time. People who worked with me can vouch for that 🙂 The real “Self’ has to eventually appear, isn’t it? We used to see benevolent behavior from that boss except when he was one to one with us. After giving a very motivating Townhall speech, answering the irritating questions with a dignity he would turn up to next meeting with utter disdain to his reportees. He used to bark at his secretary, driver, office boy as though they were all stress relievers to his recent townhall. As much as we hail the leaders in public for their designations and influential roles they play, we only remember them for how they behave in private, dont we? After all, whenever somebody asks us how is that leader in private, we end up saying, nice guy or jerk! The private experience of the leader spreads faster than what the publicly portrayed image!

Why Leaders cannot Listen?

800 371 Kamal Karanth
Why is it difficult for leaders to Listen? We keep reading about the Gyan around why listening is great art, many of the leaders don’t listen, some of your role models, inspiring leaders listened to you, etc. etc.

Leaders – Do they need to feel Belonged?

800 371 Kamal Karanth
Whom would you give credit for the recent Chennai Super King’s IPL victory? Leaders like Dhoni or experienced team or CSK’s ecosystem. Some of us said it wasn’t difficult to spot how relaxed he looked here compared to his previous stint. Much of this crew were there at Pune too. I would attribute the victory to the ecosystem of CSK which made him feel belonged.

After all, aren’t champions supposed to be performing in different environments and the surroundings shouldn’t matter? Many corporate examples tell us that the ecosystem is equally important for the leaders to produce the best results. Think of successful corporate leaders who couldn’t reproduce their magic when they switched camps. Groupon’s Andrew Mason, Marisa Meyer, numerous CEOs at HP all had excellent past track records. But, they aren’t remembered the same way like they did with their previous ventures.

Ecosystem Influence

Leaders are human too and they need a sense of connectedness, support, familiarity to perform at their optimum level. That also explains why leaders bring their ex-colleagues when they take up new assignments. They want a few faces which give them a level of comfort. Additionally, CEOs need all the stakeholders to be successful in their new jobs. Board, partners, Immediate reportees and extended teams. Yes, CEO’s are cynosures of success and villains of failure. Nobody can ignore their entire ecosystem in the background for them to go either way. Most leaders are told to build that ecosystem or manage them well. It’s called shrewd politics at one level and stakeholder management at another. Nevertheless, every CEO you talk to will acknowledge the power of ecosystem that they inherit or create.

Replicating Success

Many CEOs with long tenures are reluctant to move jobs. This in spite of attractive offers is due to the fear of the ecosystem change. CEOs who jump the ship negotiates funny things to keep the status quo as much as possible. They bring in their ex-secretary, negotiate for the same city operation even if the Hq is elsewhere. All said and done you can only replicate your comfort zone to a limited extent. Could this be the reason many boards opt for internal succession than outsiders in most cases? The ecosystem connect to the internal contender would be crucial in many cases than the outsider perspective.

Therefore the premium for CEOs who can create magic in new settings is high because they are a rare commodity. Some of us are used to our bosses, few to the culture, many to our team and place of work. A leader is able to perform if he gets all these in the right doses.

That is why some of the traditional companies don’t change leaders in spite of interim stock market pressures.

Leadership Transition- change is not welcome!

800 371 Kamal Karanth
Getting calls from past colleagues in quest of new jobs is a normal occurrence these days. I typically do ask the real drivers to such aspirations if it’s just another bad day in office. Some of these calls provide good intel if the calls are from competitor mates. One such call recently turned into an interesting insight. My ex-colleague explained the reason for his turmoil. He has a new CEO and I promptly asked: “how’s he?” My ex-colleague explained that the new CEO is attempting to change almost everything from people to structure to process to technology … his question was, “till recently we were the most happening company in this industry and it seems like in the last year or so nothing is good! How can things become so bad overnight?”

Collateral Damage

Organisations should budget for some collateral damage is expected with every leadership change. Few resignations have to be expected. After all, not everybody is going to like new leaders. In today’s work-world, most people change jobs every 2 years but can’t digest when new people are to lead them every two years in the same company. Our preferences seem to be to accept the way we work differently in a new place than having to adapt in the same place.

The new leader also has to go through the same change which he/she inflicts on others. S/he wouldn’t know when to press the button or to keep quiet. The first 90 days book subtly suggests being observant than action. It’s difficult being a leader when you are unwelcome which is quite common during turnaround situations. Once when I landed in a similar situation, I had a resignation that greeted me on day one.  Some of my reportees were pessimistic if anything can be changed even before I had arrived.

Insider Vs Outsider

In my view, leading turnarounds is a far easier task than succeeding a business which has had a successful track record. During turnaround situations, your bosses back you up as they are only interested in bottom-line results than collateral damage. In sustaining success, the organisation expects you to retain the goodness of the past (people, structure, culture, process) while delivering improved results. The logic is that if the previous guy could produce in the same context, why can’t you repeat/better the same. This gets compounded when the new leader comes from within the organisation.

Starting from “I was your peer”; “you took the lift when I was taking the stairs”; and “don’t you know my track record?”; to “let’s talk about how you will take care of my interests”; – the first few weeks are a bargaining battle. Lots of posturing happens and suddenly the leader feels lonely in a united successful team.

Leading a Succesful team

Once when my boss chose me to lead a successful team as a successor from within, I had a nightmarish beginning. It actually started with him giving the brief about the leaders I was going to lead. He started by saying “Rita has been with the company for ten years and she is the cat in her industry domain”; “Nathan is one of our finest sales leads, he actually does not need a job as he comes from an affluent background”; “Sirin is from NYU and she is the best HR person we’ve ever had”; “John, as you know, is the best Operations head we’ve had”.

He summed up the brief saying that my predecessor macro managed them and they are used to their space. I suddenly felt I was becoming a burden to these self-made leaders. When I asked in frustration what he expects me to do to earn my salary besides signing the attendance register. I was then rightly directed to the so-called easy to win battles — the market place.

Please! Don’t Be A Leader!

800 371 Kamal Karanth

EMOTIONS

Please! Don’t Be A Leader!

25 MAY , 2016

It sounds mean of me to say so, after chasing leadership roles for decades I sound like a hypocrite to put a title like that, but I mean it, let me see if I can impress you to think so today.

Rewind to your day one in any of your new employers induction programs, either the leaders or HR would be flashing their top talent (mostly it would be people who have ‘managed’ to attain higher positions in their company). And with a beaming smile they would tell you that’s what you can become if you perform and develop. We suddenly feel gratified that we have joined the right company and our future is secure.

You then start day dreaming about what you can become looking at a handful of people who also have hung around for long. Is it right for employers to brandish that they manufacture leaders or for employees to aspire they can become leaders without any capability that they can identify for themselves. I would like to believe that one has no choice but to aspire to be a leader as otherwise you are deemed to be seen as:

  • Non aspirational, somebody without drive (meaning you are lazy 🙂
  • non-competitive, how else can they pressurize you if you are not part of a rat race ( they will start worrying why they even hired you)
  • Can’t be moulded into the organisational needs ( you will be seen as non-flexible, meaning you won’t do things beyond your Job description)
  • Bad example to others, everybody likes people who do the ra ra and say hail the organisation and its leaders/li>

When you say you don’t want to be a leader you are stating that you don’t believe either in the role or the value the role creates for others, more than anything else it irks the guy sitting at the top that you are taking a dig at him. It also puts your manager and HR in an awkward position to motivate you to work harder or learn things which otherwise you may not. Ever tried saying you don’t want to be in leadership roles that organisation has thrown at you? I have 🙂 and paid the price once. I have told never say never again to myself from that day.

Saying no definitely brings an unnecessary pause to your career by being parked in roles which makes you regret your decision to be forthright to your boss and HR. It also exposes you to be passed over for promotions, reporting to your juniors, peers (it’s no shame, but let’s face it, how many of us would like to report to whom we consider junior or peers).

You also become less important to key projects or key happenings in the organisation, essentially you will dread being honest once you say no to any growth role that the organization offered you.

There are times when you say no due to personal reasons, the timing would be wrong, you are going through a break up, parents would be needing care, attention is required for kids’ education, spouse’s job would be at a crucial phase. Maybe it pays to cite some personal reasons and say no than being honest about your lack of aspiration.

Sometimes U can be real about your lack of conviction on your abilities or intent. If you are in a congenial atmosphere of trust and respect it’s likely that less harm will be inflicted on your existence and peace. Such supervisors and organisations are rare but not impossible to find.

Should Leaders Be Allowed To Serve Notice?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

On a Friday morning I received a cryptic email from my Vice President’s Executive Assistant. It said that our super boss had resigned in the morning and it was also his last day at work. As this person was instrumental in hiring me, I worriedly called one of my friends who is also my confidant. He told me it was a common practice in his organisation to relieve senior leaders immediately after they resign. On most occasions, it’s within a day. OMG! I told myself, this is the scariest part of being a leader!

Imagine the series of things organisations do when they hire externally or promote somebody to a senior role.

  • They start talking to one and all about this great talent they have hired and willing to wait for him/her to join
  • If it’s internal promotion they go to great lengths talking about her/his credentials and achievements
  • Write grand introductory emails on his/her first day at work
  • Organise town halls meetings to welcome him/her
  • Take him/her on multiple welcome lunch/dinner meets to engage them with new stake holders
  • Take him/her on multiple welcome lunch/dinner meets to engage them with new stake holders

Turn this on its head while similar people are leaving the organisation:

  • No announcement is made about the person who has resigned till the gossip mill has ensured everybody in the organisation has become aware of it. Perhaps the organisation is busy looking for a replacement and forget to be transparent about the departure/resignation? It could also be a dilemma of whether it is appropriate that an announcement be made without a replacement in hand?
  • Most people departing an organisation don’t even get a well-deserved goodbye/thank you email from their supervisor or HR. Why bother about people who are leaving, huh?
  • Many a times people don’t want to give a grand sendoff by calling a group to say a few words in public. Imagine your own brand enhancement as an employer when senior employees go with their head high!
  • Senior people are mostly left in the lurch than any honourable sendoff dinners by senior management
  • Journalists force some of the organisations to confirm the exit, some are vague or don’t come on record either.

So what forces organisations to be tentative, hesitant, non-communicative, evasive or abrupt when senior leaders resign? Some of the explanations may perhaps be:

  • Loss to competitor – Most of the preparations/damage would have been made in advance by the executive. The person could attempt anything against his employer after announcing his exit, and from an organisation perspective very little can be done to protect it in last minute hasty exits. Personally, I would rather make it emotionally difficult for the person to do anything against you or the organisation by treating him well during the exit. Wouldn’t it be a great idea to take the person to his existing customers with his successor to firewall your customers even better?
  • Fear of the ‘resignee’ spreading negativity – If you believe that the organisation has a strong culture with adequate leadership strength, one individual can do very little damage to its morale and reputation. Also a meeting to set expectations on operational and behavioural patterns just prior to departure will abet in preventing any unconscious attempt by the employee to make unwarranted derogatory remarks.
  • Move on faster: This is the most commonly used philosophy provided the organisation is ready with the second line of command and the role is not a significant customer interface. This one makes sense to me depending on the context.
  • No glorified exits: Organisations believe that by giving grand exit parties to senior executives they would be giving the wrong signal to the remaining employees that leaving is attractive. Sendoffs are symbols of organisation fabric, in a work world where nobody is permanent, talent is rare and alumni comebacks are common, it makes business sense to be generous while senior employees leave

I once heard of an interesting experience from a friend. Once he had made up his mind to quit, he called all of his direct reportees each on their own and told them of his intention to quit. Later that same evening, he met with his boss and submitted his resignation. His boss asked him to leave his laptop behind & meet her the next day.

By the time he arrived to meet at her office, he saw his personal stuff packed there. His emails, I believe, had already been deactivated. He was thanked for his services and relieved without the access to meet his people or going to his office. But they promptly sent an email to all employees that he was a great leader and was leaving the organisation in pursuit of his career, they profusely thanked him for his services. He said overnight his day was transformed from being a CEO of the company to someone who did not have access to the company elevator. I am sure he talks highly of his ex-employer now 🙂