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Kamal Karanth

The Mind of a Consultant

560 560 Kamal Karanth

The book “The Mind of a Consultant” is a detailed job description for anybody wanting to make consulting their career.

Five-and-a-half million people work for the consulting industry across the world. Students in premier management institutes continuously compete to get a placement with McKinsey, Bain, BCG kind of top drawer consulting companies.

The Mind of a Consultant is a book that details the scenes inside this competitive management consulting industry and is a relevant guide to the work-life at such companies at large.

As I started absorbing this book, I read the news on Deloitte Consulting promoting 15 people as partners, and I started to wonder about their triumphs and travails. I couldn’t help but also think of all those disappointed people who could not become partners, a thought induced after reading Sandeep Krishnan’s book.

He starts with a flashback of his protagonist, who was heartbroken at not being promoted as a partner, and chronicles his female lead’s triumphs and travails.

The Mind of a Consultant, in short, is the journey of an Ivy League campus recruit who becomes a partner in a consulting company.

At various passages in this book, one feels that it’s a great digest for people who are aspiring to be in a consulting industry or for people who have just joined that industry.

However, as I completed the book, I felt it was a timely refresher for anybody who aspires to be in a leadership position across industries.

The book covers four distinct stages of a professional’s journey: Campus placement; transition to a professional life; leadership, and setbacks and mentors.

Campus placement

The detailing of the campus placement process starting from internship to PPO is an important segment. Sandeep details the preparation, mindset, and hard work required to be noticed by your future employer.

He draws our attention to the stretch and long hours that a typical consulting company subjects the interns. The evaluation criteria for placements and the dynamics of a consulting company from an intern’s point of view are well-articulated.

Transition

The book’s highlight is the transformation of the intern into a professional.

Though this transition is tailored to the consulting industry, one can easily relate this to any industry for client-facing roles. One of the key learnings are the listings of various frameworks management consultants use in their journey. Sandeep lists the various frameworks like Pestel Analysis, Porter’s Five Forces, McKinsey’s 7-S model, BCG Matrix, to name a few.

I thought one missed opportunity was to elaborate on the leading lady’s struggles in a man’s world of consulting.

It’s well known that the consulting industry takes a toll on family life, and women in leadership roles are more an exception. Though there is a title that starts as a man’s world, Sandeep doesn’t take it deeper and examine the struggles for women in a stretched working world of the management consulting industry.

Leadership

Sandeep, through successful anecdotes, combines the various competencies required to be a successful leader. He lists the golden rules to lead, different kinds of leaders, dealing with failures with apt examples.

He also highlights leadership facets through Johari’s Window Framework, MBTI assessments, customer-centricity, thought leadership, financial savviness, and the importance of networking.

Setbacks & Mentors

Time and again, Sandeep highlights the role of mentors during the protagonist’s struggles. He intelligently weaves the variety of mentors whom we all possibly get help from directly and indirectly. The book brings the combined efforts of peers, spouses, supervisors, senior colleagues, ex-colleagues during various setbacks in a career journey. It seems like mentors are accessible in various contexts and forms, and the examples of mentors in the book will make you wonder how you might have ignored them in your world of work.

Brickbats

For people who like drama, there isn’t enough in this book; Sandeep avoids any such narrative and sticks to a reporting style that has concepts and simple reading.

It makes you feel it’s a textbook than an interesting tale of a management consultant. The book could have been a page-turner and absorbing if there were more anecdotes around the protagonist's emotions.

As the premise was set around a high-pressure work-setting of a management consultant with flashbacks loaded, it had ample scope to make it more connecting.

In many ways, the book doesn’t establish an emotional connection with the reader, and it’s rather dry in its reading.

The much-famed turf wars that partners create in consulting companies and how people get caught in the crossfire would have made for some interesting reading. It could have also brought in the darker side of working in the consulting world. So, in a way, it presents only the positive side of working in the management consulting industry.

Conclusion

This book “The Mind of a Consultant” aptly represents over one lakh people who work in the consulting industry in India. It’s a book HR departments of consulting companies should ask aspirant job seekers to read before joining them.

Published first on Hindu Business Line on 03-05-2021

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

or

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?

Preservation

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.

MYOB

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

Questions

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?

Humility: The New FAD?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Has Ajinkya Rahane reemphasized humility as a key virtue for Leadership or we are getting carried away by the historical win?

Yes, we all love cricket. Moreover, we like to win; we also tend to support underdogs. By all means, in the recent Australian series, we were possibly playing our second-best eleven with a few exceptions. Due credit has to be given to the captaincy in a team sport like cricket. Two run-outs of Captain Kohli and Captain Rahane stand as contrast expressions in two tests, one of a silent sulking walk back and the other of an encouragement pat to the partner to carry on. Now, let’s take a pause there and not overdramatize differing personalities and contexts.

Are some of us getting carried away by attributing too much to Ajinkya Rahane’s humble personality as the winning magic potion, and is that being a great virtue of leadership?

Many Tweets, Columns, WhatsApp has been going around the humility factor and indirectly taking a shot at Virat’s aggressive leadership style. From Jim Collins to HBR, there have been many studies around why Humility is a great virtue for leadership. In a lovely book called Humble Inquiry, Edgar Schein explores “the gentle art of asking instead of telling,” Let’s reflect further on the facets of humility.

Psychological Safety

In Latin ‘Humus’ means earth/ground, and ‘humilis’ means on the ground. Studies have demonstrated that leaders with humility increase psychological safety for the team, and hence teams like leaders who make them feel safe. Psychological Safety can create happy workplaces and hence create more productive employees? Not necessarily? If not balanced with the right expectations and productivity measures, it can backfire?

Once I was interacting with a leader who had just taken charge of an IT GIC. Their just-concluded employer branding roadshow highlighted how they were known for the best work-life balance. In fact, that was their number one feature that came out in surveys. The GM wasn’t too pleased when we congratulated him on the great work-life balance factor.  “This has created a lazy culture, and our productivity is the lowest amongst peers globally, and our competition is ahead in innovation. It’s the leaders like me who are paying the price here, and I am the 3rd Country GM in the last five years due to the low productivity, I will rather be known for technology innovation than work-life balance,” he lamented.

Aggression/Narcissism

Aggression and Narcissism, in a way, is two sides of the same coin. We also tend to appreciate aggressive leaders who express more emotions and demand more from others openly. In many circumstances, it works for organisations to turnaround situations, change cultures, increases innovation, and raise the bar in terms of competition. Aggressive leaders also bring narcissism as a package, and not all of us relate to it well. Let’s picture a narcissist/expressive leader. They are more likely to guide you/directions and narrate their own stories of how they achieved what they now expect from you. On the one hand, it makes sense to relate to a story. At the same time, you might feel like being compared or pressurized simultaneously. I would put it down to your wiring than the leader’s personality.

I am usually grounded by my 11-year-old daughter, who catches me during my Gyan session and says, “Appa.’ It’s always your story. All you need is a tiny chance to start talking about your heroic childhood.” J

Go on a flashback and remember the leaders you worked with or appreciated the most. How many were the aggressive/expressive and maybe a touch narcissist types, and how many were the humble/reticent types? Ever wondered why you relate more to one than the other?

You

I would like to believe it’s our own mental makeup that decides whether we like the humble leaders or aggressive/dominant leaders. Sometimes do we like to see in these leaders what we ‘don’t have’ if it helps our viewpoint?

I remember once when we were in the midst of a clean-up before handing over ourselves to an acquirer. We had an aggressive leader who expressively showed her emotions & was famously called a ruthless assassin. She single-handedly cut the fab in the organisation over a period of time with multiple executive decisions. Many chairs occupying/email writing leaders with fat salaries were eased out and replaced by young, energetic leaders from within. The heavy/inefficient regional/corporate offices were asked to go lean to the tune of 50%. By the time the acquirer took over, it was a highly efficient profit-making machine. The people who were affected by her approach loathed her. The beneficiaries of her decisions earned promotions and bonuses. The organisation earnt more profits consistently thereafter.

 Outcome

We are great fans of the style, but even greater admirers of results. Enterprises/teams are no different. When there are favorable outcomes, we tend to appreciate the trait which brought out the outcome and label it as the impact factor. Whether it’s aggression, people connect, decisiveness, expressions, process, or stability & now humility, we choose the leader’s salient feature and hail them if there is a productive outcome due to them.

The bosses who gave us the best increments, bonuses, promotions, jobs are the ones we likely hail the most, even though it would have come at the cost of them being nasty, mean, and unfair to many others?

 Are we children of favorable results who appreciate the character behind wins and then glorify their underlying traits? Humility for now is what we could relate as far as Rahane is concerned?

As long as nice guys don’t finish last, we should be fine?

Right now humility is the latest FAD. Let’s celebrate it!

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.

Hiring – A Cloning Faux Pas!

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Our repeated hiring patterns are just like the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results?

One of the Employers once said, “We hire 50% through employee referrals, about 10% of niche talent we directly source through our TA team, maybe 15% through recruitment companies, 10% through campuses, and the rest we have contract resources through service providers”. Depending on the context and evolution, this mix keeps changing for each enterprise. However, with all the good intentions and strategic thinking, we keep on following some paths, which, when compounded, creates hiring Faux Pas.

Hiring Followers

“Please don’t bring any of your friends from your ex-employer said my HR Head,” as though he read my mind. It was day one of my new employer’s orientation, and I could only smile about his mind-reading ability. Is this something you practice here? I asked, “We are proud of our culture and want to ensure that we don’t recruit people from the same organisation he explained. I have to admit that I almost felt insulted about my previous employer during that conversation. Then, he moved on, and I got two of my ex-team members, they got a few of their followers, and the chain continued, and in no time, we had created our own coterie. On the other hand, many talented people kept resigning as they saw a series of tailgating.

Pedigree Cloning

This consulting company hires a minimum of 5-6 people every year from us. In a good year, it crosses even double digits,” beamed the dean of a premium Institute. “Over the last few years, their entire HR department has mostly our alumni,” he proudly declared. Another Engineering college placement head said this year this IT company did not even bother to come; they asked us to send the students above CGPA 4.6 and sent letters to the top 15 (no kidding).

Now, let’s reflect on this,

Do we keep going to the same universities because they are of a certain pedigree or some of their past alumni were highly productive employees?

Or is it a kind of insurance to avoid any flak you need to take for wrong hires from elsewhere? After all, it’s risky to recruit from new universities; what if you end up with a few bad hires? When you hire from a pre-approved campus, and it turns sour, you can always point out at the university and say, “their quality is going down.”

Have you heard hiring recruiters saying, please get me, people, after IIM 2010 as all the bosses are a batch senior from that? We hire from the same institution and maintain a hierarchy based on the pass out year forever. It’s a permanent queue system. Whatever happened to the meritocracy at work?

Repeat & Loop

What works once must work again? Once we saw a couple of salespeople from the Yellow Pages industry being successful in sales roles, buoyed by this, we recommended and hired half a dozen more sales guys from the same industry; Before we knew most of the second lot was fired. Then, a guy from Pharma sales was doing well, so more were hired, and this time it was 50% successful. We also have a similar bias about companies,

“GE guys are great in the process, Eureka Forbes guys are best for retails sales, there cannot be better than Xerox folks on institutional sales, let’s get someone from Google or Apple for this project.”

I am sure you have heard of these cliches before. We can’t help but try repeating what has worked before.

But, in the hiring world, the context of what worked before doesn’t repeat easily as you are dealing with

1. People who are always unique.

2. The personal circumstances under which they operated

3. The team/boss and culture where they performed before

4. The role/title/money that acts as personal motivators

Formula

I had a boss who hired me once just after interviewing for 15 minutes; he did not ask anything about my past work-related skills ( I presumed he had read my CV well). After joining, I realized that he had a template for hiring people from a small town. From what I saw, it worked for him. One hiring manager asked for hiring women for a customer service role saying women are better at multi-tasking. Another formula I was told was to hire people from SMEs, startups. They come from high-pressure settings and can handle long work hours as they are used to it. Sounds familiar again? We miss all these people’s individual contexts and easily bracket them into templates to confirm and reuse.

I am sure you can add plenty to this list, add in the comments list if you have seen unique patterns we keep repeating, which in turn is a kind of cloning?

In biomedical research, cloning is broadly defined to mean the duplication of any biological material. Over a period of time, we seem to have turned our hiring process into cloning knowingly or unknowingly.

But we keep saying hire for potential! 

Everybody can/not write!

Everybody can/not write!

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Do you admire people’s way of writing or their ability to connect to you or inspired by their writing discipline?

There was a time when I used to read an article from somebody I knew. I would react like, “This is something I was thinking too, I could write better, What’s so great about it. Looks like I have read it somewhere,” or I would compare it with writers whom I admire and dismiss it out of jealousy. My own opinion was everyone could blog if they choose to, and it’s just that they choose not to write. I have told many people I know that they should start writing articles/columns. They were inspiring leaders with great communication skills, brilliant insights, and subject matter experts in their own rights, not to forget that most people paid attention to them in organisation/industry settings. However, they never ventured into writing anything, and I always wondered why. Today, I reflect on my own writing journey, excuse the narcissism, and ‘Gyan’ if you detect them. Please read all the “we” as “I.”🤓

Devil in the Mind

Once I started to write for my own catharsis, I realised the challenges of writing and publishing. Much of it is in our imagination of who we are and a fear of rejection from people we ‘mostly’ don’t know.

People whom we know are expected to like and share🤫 .

This battle is with the unknown critic becomes the devil in mind and keeps us in the inertia mode. If you want your writing to be accepted/praised by every person who is close to you, like your spouse, friends, relatives, siblings, bosses, peers, or reportees, you may never be able to get out of your shell.

Many of us also struggle with the people whom we know and what they say about us. One of the first pieces I wrote I emailed to my sister, an English Lecturer at Bangalore University. She frowned at my language and refused to edit such a poorly written post. So, out of low self-esteem, I halted my intent to publish for 6 more months, but I kept writing to please myself.

Self-Perception & Expression

Our own perception of who we are in our eyes and the professional role also gives us the leverage to express. I wonder why I never chose to write till I reached a particular stage of my career. Yes, forums like Linkedin made it easy and also brought the necessary competitive juices to write. But, I wonder if we will initiate our expressions until we feel we have the power of expression. Much of it is not our experience but how we perceive our career progression and positioning in our professional setting (call it the role/title). Our self-image is also frozen in time or fixed to the extent that it won’t free us to write what we think. And there will be people imposing on you what to write if you confide in them about your desire to blog, and what they advise may not be something you want to express at all. What if you want to review movies, aren’t there so many already? The only suggestion I initially got was to write about leadership, and it did not inspire me to write for the next 3 months. I felt leadership as a theme did not connect with me.

Uniqueness

It goes without saying that we all want to write about things that possibly hasn’t been written about before. We desire our theme/content/style to be unique, and in that hunt, I have experienced it to be a non-starter. Until I wrote for the first 12 months, I did not know where I was headed. It took a long time for me to realize what I liked writing and what was truly me. I also think one can pick a space and go deep into it. When I picked workplace dynamics or water cooler discussions as my dominant theme, I wasn’t sure if I could explore so many areas for so long. But, every day, a new trigger, a unique experience at the workplace, kept feeding me.

Your Employer Setting

Not everyone can blog with freedom. Most of us work in enterprise settings, and there is a need to balance the image and organization identity. Employers also won’t like you to take a stance or be critical of things they can’t explain to their PR team.

“LinkedIn and social media are a distraction, we want you to focus on the business and customers,” said one of my bosses once; “We don’t want you to be arguing with an idiot on social media and put our marketing team on tenterhooks all along” he concluded.

I quickly realised that being ‘liked’ internally for your performance is far important than the likes and traffic you generate outside. Moreover, To stop feeling the guilt that I was using organization time for my pleasure, I started my day an hour early for writing and made sure I blogged as soon as my flight took off during travel. Additionally, As much as organizations like their leaders to get the branding mileage for contributing to social media, they aren’t prepared for any criticism that can come out of that. I am sure you wouldn’t have missed the all sweet, only positive, diabetic posts of leaders from large enterprises and avoided sensitive topics even if they write! On the other hand, you must have observed CXOs being more open and articulate about issues once they have turned entrepreneurs!🙋‍♂️

Narcissist Avatar

One mindset we need to have for serious writing is to wear a narcissist hat. Yes😊, I would like to believe that we all have sufficient doses of it, and only some of us can comfortably bring it on externally. The day we can shift that in our mind, the ghosts in our head will disappear, and it will give us relative freedom to express. This is easier said than done unless you are born with that gene! You will be afraid of criticism, and in the absence of even minor doses of narcissism, the publish button will never get clicked.

Another fear psychosis that a semi-narcissist will avoid is that of failure. In the world of likes, comments, and traffic what if nobody reads what you write?

In the first 6 months, I started publishing, hardly 200 people read my posts, and I wanted to stop publishing. That’s why you need a good circle of friends, relatives, your reportees whom you can nudge to give you that initial encouragement. 🤦‍♂️ I know it feels odd. If you are in a leadership role, your team becomes obliged to click the ‘like’ button on your post. Can you imagine how awkward it would be for your team members to be active on social media and not like/comment/share your posts? If they exist, they are brave people, and if you allow them to be, you are the most magnanimous. 😎

Creativity or Discipline?

The famously described writer’s block is overrated. I would like to believe that once we choose our space (industry, domain, jokes, movie reviews, experiences, quotes, copy & paste), it is about discipline and routine. I think it is like going to the gym or dieting. Unless it’s not part of your daily routine, you can’t expect any change to your body. Similarly, for writing to become part of you, one needs to turn up almost daily. If you can write for an hour daily on your chosen space, it will become your muscle memory. In a few months/years, you can even sit at your work desk and write whatever you like, believe me, just like that. Yes, it needs you to maintain journals, do research, and everything you get or expect when you read insightful articles written by your favorite authors.

Discipline and routines are your enemies or friends if you want to take writing seriously. Or it would be best if you were so famous that people are waiting to read your opinions which all of us have in plenty.

I read somewhere “Writing is 10% skill, 40% hard work, and 50% crippling self-doubt.”

As always, I hope you read this post with a pinch of salt!

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!

Deferred truth

Sometimes leaders are confronted with the reality of not knowing enough in advance, but still are supposed to show a high-level of optimism and take a position. It does land them in a position of embarrassment later or look like they lied knowingly. Luckily in the corporate world, unlike politics, the questions are asked only around water coolers, and most likely, never reach the top!

Once, in one of the first town halls I addressed in a new company, I was asked if I would hire any of my former colleagues or any layoff was coming. I said something like, “there is so much talent in the room, and I am sure we don’t have to go out for talent, and also let’s focus on growing the business and not think negative.” Within a year, I hired two of my former colleagues in leadership roles and cut the workforce by 10 percent.

In my defence, it was my first month; I did not know enough about the business’s dynamics and reality, which I realised much later. However, I could have been diplomatic and said, “I need more time to study, and I will do what is best for the business?” But, that would not have gone well with the confidence mask a leader needs to wear all the time.

Leadership template

In 2016, an HBR study asked 195 leaders in 15 countries to list the top important leadership qualities. The top five listed by them were 1) ethics & safety 2) empowering others 3) openness to ideas and organisational learning 4) Nurturing growth and 5) encouraging connection and belonging.

However, most of us get drawn to leaders who have executive presence, meaning how they look, speak, and behave. For most of us, the confidence depicted by leaders is an important element.

This expectation pushes leaders to show that they are in charge, and they make bold statements hiding key facts. Most often, we all know that our leaders are exaggerating, and we like the fact that they are motivating us as we are all suckers for positivity.

To quote the British statesman Henry Taylor, a “falsehood ceases to be a falsehood when it is understood on all hands that the truth is not expected to be spoken”.

First published by The Hindu Business Line on November 5, 2020