Out of the Blue

Signs

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Once upon a time, on a busy last Monday of the month, my Account Manager took an emergency leave. He told one of our colleagues that he had to visit his uncle who was on a short trip to Singapore from Dubai. To nail the point of how desperate his uncle was to meet him, he went on to add that his day-trip flight ticket to Singapore was sponsored by his uncle.

It did not occur to me that it was odd for an uncle to meet his nephew in such a hurry. Hey, it happens, right? And to cloud my judgment even further, I was also preoccupied with wishing for my uncles to be as equally rich, generous and loving!

A week later, the Account Manager resigned and I got to know that in actual fact he was attending a final interview (with his new employer) that fateful Monday. I felt bad because while I certainly did not expect him to tell me that the emergency leave was taken to attend an interview, I failed to read the Signs that his resignation was on the card.

A week later, the Account Manager resigned and I got to know that in actual fact he was attending a final interview (with his new employer) that fateful Monday. I felt bad because while I certainly did not expect him to tell me that the emergency leave was taken to attend an interview, I failed to read the Signs that his resignation was on the card.

This brings me to the question – is it possible to foresee signs of resignation especially when each of us are so engrossed with our busy world of work which is made worse by the fact that we almost always see things from our point of view as a boss and as a colleague? I would like to believe that if you are a keen follower of human behavior, you might be able to see it coming. And sometimes your own experiences (as you get older :)) help too!

Fast forward to a few years later… one of my CRMs told me that she has to meet her lawyers in Penang to discuss her divorce which has suddenly come up for hearing. She told me on Saturday that she will return to KL on Monday evening. On Tuesday morning I was expecting her resignation and she did not disappoint. The Signs? We had a lengthy argument a few weeks back on her lack of client focus. Our arguments escalated through many forms of communication: private + public + emails; it was only a matter of time that she freed herself from me. On hindsight, I regretted her leaving but I was a young inexperienced manager who believed in having the final word in any argument. Unlike the first time, I never addressed the Signs in this case due to my ego rather than ignorance.

Imagine if we could decipher our colleague’s Signs as crystal clear as these signboards?

If you have reasonable equations with your people, there are patterns that will be difficult to miss even if people are gifted with Hollywood acting skills. The eye contact stops dropping; handshakes become less warm; people skip dinner invites; casual conversations take a walk; skipped meetings; unplanned leaves increase; just to name a few. People are not robots, so the Signs will always be there.

This brings me to my next question – can we prevent or act on these Signs? Prevent is a tough one, act is perhaps more appropriate. One of the best acts you can undertake is to have an honest chat which goes a long way to drive visibility. So when the eventuality happens, you are able to tell each other that it was only inevitable. This too saves the organization time and a few blushes.

You can see those Signs happen to you too! Once when I resigned, my boss asked me to email the letter at the end of the conversation. When I reflect on that episode today, I am sure he saw the Signs. When he offered me a new role a couple of months prior, I had a dispute with him on the location and the designation which was given to me. When he revised these, I picked on a new dispute on how he had too many direct reports (14 on total!) and I refused to be part of the 14. He rectified that too and still I dragged my feet signing the new letter of appointment. Hence I was not surprised that he had not announced my new role internally due to the Signs he saw. Wise guy!

In another case, one of my direct reports missed a dinner appointment with me during our annual meets. The next day, he gave our regular morning walks a miss too and all the while refusing to comment on a new incentive scheme I gave him. A month later, he quit; but this time I had read the Signs in time – his back up was ready to join me in 15 days!

Sometimes not reading the Signs can be embarrassing. One of our managers fought hard to award a promotion to her colleague. In return, the colleague resigned within a week after receiving the promotion. The manager lost her credibility in front of HRD which was made worse by the fact that the said employee was demanding for the promotion just to use it as a tool to negotiate for a better package with her new employer! It’s uncommon NOT to be able to read the Signs in this case as the employee and manager have been working together for 3 years!

So, you ask, what can I do to read these Signs better? The best I can say… go ahead and join a course on astrology because it would otherwise take you 20 years of trial and error to become a self-acclaimed Signs reader like me. ?

Shh… I am at my training camp! :)
Now don’t get scared! This was taken during my Astrology Graduation Ceremony!

Corporate Spies

800 371 Kamal Karanth
Would you relate to the word “corporate spying?” During lunches and especially at after office gatherings, we discuss this without using that term. Ever wondered how your boss gets the information about what happens on the ground from a remote distance? Accept it or deny it, corporate spying is as close to our minds as how much money we make at work and how fast we scale the corporate ladder. I would like to believe that your progress to a fast track growth at the office can be impeded by a spy or two. ?

So what is it like to have caught the attention of an office spy, corporate spies are everywhere; you just need to get better at spotting them!

For me, it all begun with the changed body language of one of my bosses at one of my employers. I met him after a 3-month interval as he works in a different city in a meeting, he appeared stiff; avoiding eye contact with me; at the very least, there seemed to be a lack of “warmth” between us.  It helped that it was a quarterly meeting and we were surrounded by 15 other colleagues yet I couldn’t stop myself from feeling awkward. Tea breaks and lunch followed; he avoided me till the end of the day; I noticed that he wasn’t in the least bit reserved with the rest of my colleagues or team members. The day slipped fast and the following day was worse.  He started making public comments on how my team was not adhering to the execution that resulted in him getting the brunt of the super boss.  I reeled in shock as he clearly didn’t indicate this in my recent individual review. I let the comment slide as I couldn’t do much in a crowded meeting room. At the same time I noticed a couple of my colleagues snicker as if they knew something was amiss.

After the two-day meet, I worked incessantly at getting a spot of individual time with him and soon as I succeeded, I dived directly into the question: “is everything ok between us?”

“Kamal”, he said, “I got to know that you don’t favor me nor my leadership style and have made these known publicly.” He went on to say that he had his sources that were reliable; and especially since his grapevine comes from the Finance team, how could the rumors be anything but true!

“Kamal”, he said, “I got to know that you don’t favor me nor my leadership style and have made these known publicly.” He went on to say that he had his sources that were reliable; and especially since his grapevine comes from the Finance team, how could the rumors be anything but true!

Your Accessories speak when Work can’t!

800 371 Kamal Karanth
They say performance is everything and work is what makes you look good. While I’m able to relate to this philosophically, some of my experiences tell another story. Doesn’t style and what we wear also count in many situations including influencing colleagues, impressing customers, and getting noticed by the boss? Perhaps…but can this sort of attention be yours for always without discipline, intellect; aptitude; and the ability to connect? Well, I’m not too sure about that…
I thought I had a great press conference; I presented a new research paper to a packed hall of journalists for two hours. At the end of the press conference, I was pretty pleased with my composure and ability to provide responses which met the expectations of the media. I had prepared well; spent more than a few hours picking the best suit for the occasion; and made sure that I smiled as much as I could (though my heart was literally pounding for the first 2 minutes of the presentation). ?

But when I returned to the office, I was not at all pleased to see a gift-wrapped coffee mug on my table with a note that said, “Kamal, the coffee mug that you carried to the press conference today wasn’t suited for an MD so this gift is for your future use!” The “saint” in me smiled but the “devil” in me said “what the…!”

I laughed it off thinking that it did not matter as long as the journo gave a good coverage and yet despite receiving a positively overwhelming publicity the following day, I could not shake off the coffee mug incident and reluctantly asked myself, “’It is possible that attractiveness and a good sense of style may take precedence over everything else for a lasting impression at work and during interviews?”

Another episode comes to mind…a few years ago, we eagerly anticipated the arrival of our new boss from abroad when we were in middle of a merger. Some of us were disappointed by her initial address which we thought lacked depth, thought leadership and connectivity to Asia.  On the contrary, a majority of our colleagues were besotted by her. My new country head whispered to me during lunch, “Kamal, did you see her “Prada” bag? That woman has great taste!”

So it seemed that my new boss won more hearts with the Prada bag she carried and the Montblanc pen she used to make notes on that day. In a world of impressions, my boss sailed through her 1st win by her choice of accessories!

My memories on accessories go a long way. I was about to move into my 1st major managerial role. During this time, 4 of my direct reports took the trouble to sit me down to give me an “up-to-the-minute” crash course about style and the world of fashion!

We in Finance aren’t easy to deal with?

800 371 Kamal Karanth
Many of us in India have been standing in Queues for the last few weeks, it ‘must been a new experience for some of us to stand in front of ATMs to withdraw money, for the older lot who transacted in the pre-ATM days the bank Queues are not new. As such we have stood in many inconsequential Queues in our lives and I would argue that we all have been trained for this ‘waiting’ thanks to few years of work experience. So, what’s the link to work experience and Queues? Don’t be Naïve, haven’t you yet queued up virtually in front of your finance department? If you haven’t, you are either working in an organisation that have successfully “blended” their front and back office workforces to provide outstanding service to both its internal and external customers; or the higher probability is that you are yet to come face to face with this parallel “power centre” in your organisation known as ‘Finance’.
As I mentioned earlier, while it is normal for us to “agree” to wait in queue when it’s a case of Hobson’s choice, delays by our very own Finance Division can result in a major heartburn for us! I have written about slowdowns one of another kind in one of my earlier posts http://kamalkaranth.com/does-an-approvals-culture-slow-down-organizations/
Before anything else, let me put my cards on the table– I’m not here to nurse grudges on Finance people. On the contrary, I have worked with some finest Finance leaders who do incredible work and I still talk to my last 3 CFOs. However, I have also seen a long line in front of Finance office I’ve worked with as customers or colleagues, so I am trying to get some attention here through my biased opinions that people in Finance have an unusual affinity to make the rest of their colleague’s wait ?
There was once a conversation I was listening in that was too interesting not to be mentioned. One of my mentors, then the CEO of a large enzyme company, was firing someone over the phone. I heard bits of the conversation about “pay outs” and “organisation reputation”. “Some of these guys should be sent to do sales. Only then would they know what it takes to be at the mercy of others!” was his final say to me after he disconnected the line.
Soon after, he turned to me and proceeded to elaborate, “I see this gentleman almost every day at our reception area. I assumed he was attending an interview but after a week passed by and I was still seeing him, I asked the Receptionist the reason for his daily visits. With great discomfort,she said that the gentleman, who happened to be our office stationary vendor, was following up with Finance on his payments!” he concluded disappointingly. He said from that day he instituted a vendor payment compliance report which he used to review periodically to avoid violations. I hope most CFOs and CEOs do that today.
I’m sure that if you’re in Finance, you’ll have numerous valid reasons for delayed payments – from the costs not budgeted for, incorrect bills, payment not due, incomplete process, where is the approval, error due to the ERP system – feel free to add more “defences” as I might have lost touch with new ones!
If you’re in Sales, Marketing, IT Support, even HR, I can see you cynically smiling… I guess scenarios such as the one experienced by the stationary vendor chap is déjà vu for us – who can forget those arduous moments we have had with our Finance colleagues; playing “hide-and-seek” with us from behind their computers? Or the inscribed one-liners they come up with that “mysteriously” hold up payments which are crucial to you and me!
I know that the world is changing and we tend to use nice corporate terms like ‘business partnering’ for functions like finance to motivate them to work better with rest of the organisation.  I would opine more can be achieved by our finance colleagues and would brand them better than they are today, let me offer three things that Finance can instantly put-to-practice and thus, cut the line in front of the them by half:

  1. Communicate, communicate, and communicate: Finance is often seen as the roadblock to an effective pay-out system because they don’t proactively communicate these obstructions. If Finance makes a simple switch from getting too caught up in their bureaucratic works to having better communication with stakeholders on reasons for delayed payments, there’ll definitely be more “love” going around for our Finance colleagues!
  2. Provide explanations; not epic one-liners: This advice is best taken by Finance (and not Sales!) While one-liners are good for Bond movies to keep moviegoers amused, we have to keep in mind that in “reel time” is very different from “real time” and that people usually end up at the doorstep of Finance when they are at the final step of a transaction cycle. Hence, Finance needs to ensure that their customers (internal and external) do not “ring their bell” repeatedly just to get turned away by a new “one-line-rule-in-the- book” every time. In simple terms, can Finance tell us all their requirements in one go and at the very first time?
  3. Less red tape; more flexibility: In almost (if not all) organisations, the rules and audit restrictions are severe on financial transactions, understandably. But I’m sure there are solutions and flexibilities that can be applied to move things forward a notch up if only Finance chooses to work in “partnership” with the rest of its stakeholders. This lack of flexibility on the part of our Finance colleagues make us empathise a lot less with them and the fact that “they’re only doing their job”!

I asked one of my finance friends as to why we tend to see them in poor light in these transactions. The first question he asked was am I referring to accounts or finance? He says they are two different things and I shouldn’t generalise, I said there you go again, answering with a question than answering with an answer, He said tongue in cheek, “unlike you sales guys we believe in a black and white, without adequate proof or paper trail our work doesn’t start or end, our world unlike you cannot be transacted based on smart talk, promise or hope, we must protect the financial interests & integrity of the organisation and if the leaders in the organisation think we are not delivering they will tell us,  please remember we are in finance, not marketing” he concluded.
In my own experience of running organisations I have often felt we get carried away when we label our finance colleagues as non-responsive or bureaucratic in situations not favouring to us, every time I got into details I found out that the paper trail was not meeting the process. All of us want our exceptions to be dealt with our finance colleagues exceptionally.
Well if we wanted our Finance colleagues to be communicating flamboyantly with conviction on matters which did not have truth in it, wouldn’t we have put them in sales? Now sales guys out there, Chill!

The CEO just Quit; send in your best Rumour

800 371 Kamal Karanth
“I’ll start off with a frequently “gossiped” matter – “Why do CEOs quit?” The common answer within the corporate circle to this question is almost always negative – CEOs quit because shareholders and the board “booted them out” due to poor performance or fall out due to strategy or personality misalignment with key board members. This view is further compounded by the fact that since most CEOs are rewarded well for delivering results – consequential in them having very little room for blunders – the corporate world is “forced” to assume that a CEO’s resignation has everything to do with their “supposedly” substandard performance and beyond!”
I am compelled to substantiate it through personal accounts of how my resignation was received by peers and friends:
Did you have a fall out with your Super boss?” asked one of my ex-bosses when I told him that I’ve tendered my resignation as the MD of a Fortune 500 company.
A week later I bumped into a friend whom I haven’t come across for some time; got to talking about my notice; and his immediate response was, “What was your problem? They were not listening to you?
To place the last nail in the coffin, a Malaysian colleague of mine brashly said, “My notion is that you were asked to leave and got a nice severance package too!
I know I am a ‘difficult’ guy but wasn’t impressed that people who know me would think that I am so incompatible. It was difficult to digest that after 22 years with just 4 employers, people wouldn’t trust me to leave my employer amicably. If I was the fighting type, I would have quit every 4 months. On further reflection, I think it wasn’t me (the person) but the role I held which created the suspicion. When someone at the top quits, we are more inclined to assume that there must have been a fall out. Think about it – how often do we give a CEO or someone senior a clean chit when they quit? Do we say that he found his calling elsewhere; he must have found something better so good for him? More often than not, our first reaction is “something doesn’t meet the eye”. Oh’ c’mon, why wouldn’t anyone think positive?
Yes, top roles are undeniably high stake roles; beyond performance, there’s the matter of relationships – with the executive management, the board and other key influencers within and outside the organization’s ecosystem. To a certain extent, we can come to an understanding that some of these relationships can and will change with one isolated incident but can we also agree that there are more cordial separations between a CEO (and people in senior and powerful roles) and an organization than the spiteful ones we read in the papers?
Let’s ask ourselves – why is the turnover of CEOs viewed with distrust?I would choose to believe that not all of us detest those who are in senior roles. While there is an element of envy, there is no denying that many of us are motivated by these individuals and their triumphs; In short, we look up to these role models because they do more than influence our career aspirations; they positively shape our behaviors too as a result of the achievements they drive for the organizations they lead. Could it be because of these reasons we dissect each and every move they make?
Another theory of mine is about the kind of people who are in leadership roles – they regularly have stronger personalities and not surprising, as aggression is a “virtue” recognized as strength with senior folks. So when people who with such a persona quit, we invariably speculate that they must have had a fall out with higher authorities of an organization. Sometimes sheer context makes the gossip mill work harder. When one of my ex-bosses – who were the classmate of his CEO – decided to tender his resignation, the rest of us debated, “How can they part ways with 20 years of friendship? Surely something has gone sour!” Then there are CEOs who quit after a strategy meet with their super bosses and a few others when their peers were promoted over them. In these matters, context and timing become enemies of what otherwise in reality were amicable separations!
It is often enthused that senior folks are less likely to leave the helm of an organization if they are contented. Fair point, I’d say. However, just to challenge this “default” opinion why are we inclined to create murkier circumstances of these resignations?
Having been on both sides of the table, I confess that I too indulged in negative hypothesis on resignations of members of the senior clan. Now, whom to put the blame on – organization culture, our upbringing, or the darker side of our nature? Or could the real answer be thoroughly unprentensious – we lack “spice” in our lives hence would like to see it in the stories we tell of others!
Let me end this post by asking you this – what was your reaction when you last heard of a senior colleague leaving your organization? Like it or not, an honest answer from you will likely reflect the collective psyche of the rest of the corporate population. After all, haven’t we all received some of the most important information through the grapevine
imh
I wish somebody would tape our mouths so we don’t wag our tongues too often!

Why I would ‘not’ drink with her again!

800 371 Kamal Karanth
No, I did not get into a brawl with my colleagues after a drink recently, nor did I get caught by the cops with any of my colleagues who were driving under the influence of alcohol, neither did my HR send me a behavioural improvement notice after witnessing me going crazy after an office party. It’s been some time since I have had a colleague next to me with a drink in hand as I have been jobless for the last few months. Before that I used to love having a drink with my colleagues after long day at work, but I have seen me and my colleagues embarrassing ourselves after a drink post work many a times and hence these reflections. If you are not the drinking types, this post may not be for you but I am sure you do feel embarrassed to be in parties when your colleagues show a new avatar after a drink or two!

Should organizations stop encouraging drinks in official parties or take it to an extreme of having a no drink policy? I think it might be good to have a serious thought around that sooner than later. I am sure soon there will be liabilities organizations would face externally at the rate some of the incidents are happening around us. No moral policing here, as we all know in a grown-up world people are responsible for their act and know where to draw the line. There have been studies which have demonstrated that social bonding amongst colleagues have increased after a drink or two. But I seriously believe the culture of office parties with drinks thrown into it in the name of celebration or socializing have its own perils.

Spare a thought, how many times we organize parties not to be conscious about how our colleagues will reach home after a drink, think about your boss who generously takes you out for a drink paid by your company but forgets that you might drive home under the influence of alcohol. I know you might say you both are responsible and will always be within limits or take Uber home, really? Just wait outside an office party in any of the large hotels to see how many of your colleagues’ drive home after getting high. As organizations, we sort of encourage drinking and driving by organizing such parties.

Now imagine the embarrassment we land ourselves in when we get ‘high’ in the name of bonding with colleagues, no’ I am not just referring to Karaoke’s which I think is sort of fun, but the conversations which can lead to disastrous endings when alcohol takes away the filters of respect/relationships/hierarchy/professionalism/diplomacy.

I was once in a bonhomie with my DRs middle of a night after few drinks when the conversation drifted to a sensitive zone of performance. After all, how long can you discuss about weather, traffic, movies, cricket when your commonality is dominated by work? One of my colleagues asked me what I thought about our performance context, I said the numbers indicated that few of us deserved to be in Performance Improvement Plans (PIP). So, she asked me to name them, I took the names of few of them who were with me, suddenly couple of them offered to resign, and in no time the atmosphere changed, Maybe the boss in me felt challenged and I promptly asked them to email me and confirm their resignation, as you can imagine the discussion then went on till dawn before we retired with whatever peace that we could achieve, the next morning with swollen eyes and apologies to each other we started our annual budget meeting, Just think’ how nice we must have been to each other in a crucial meeting to avoid further face-off’s after the previous night’s experience. I can rate that as one of my most embarrassing moments of drinking with colleagues, before I forget to complete on that night or afterwards, nobody resigned, it was the alcohol ? Did we come closer after that conversation, maybe not, probably we even stopped drinking together thereafter during the evenings before meetings!