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Monday, December 17, 2012

Why sustaining work achievement is a pipe dream for many professionals?

The first reason is obviously the ignorance of the new law of achievement. But apart from this ignorance of new law, in my coaching experience, i discovered three blocks that make it difficult to sustain work-achievements:

Block 1: The Big Golden Prison

In the initial career, when you are struggling for food and shelter, you are chasing money. This pursuit pulls you into a 'golden prison', from which you may not be able to pull out.

When i passed out of MBA, some of my classmates joined banks because Banks were offering huge salaries as compared to other companies. As these colleagues started earning good salaries, they bought houses with mortgage loans. That starts a hefty EMI every month. So that is first lock that ties you to a unhappy job. Now even when they want to shift to a 'better job', they cannot shift because no one can offer them a comparable salary. So the lock is further tightened. Secondly, as they learn to work in a job which they do not like, the mind plays the game. It finds justifications to do the unhappy work. Good lifestyle, affordable holidays is an obvious justification. That is the second lock that ties you to the unhappy job. Further, as they marry, new responsibilities make it even more difficult to leave the job. This brings the third lock. And so on.

These professionals are caught in a bind. Because they have never experienced 'joy of having doing happy work', they have no incentive to unlock. Please remember these individuals have never experienced a job 'which they could like'. So for them, the concept of a satisfied job is just an illusion, a bookish concept. So even if we assume that they ae 'willing' to unlock, they have to start from scratch. Because of this uphill battle, they can never get out of the Golden prison; even if someone unlocks the prison for them; they do not want to come out. I know of many such 40+ corporate professionals who are stuck up like this. They have all the luxuries in the world, but are not satisfied with the job to enjoy them!

Block 2: Idiosyncrasy of skill market

Some individuals are lucky to avoid the golden prison. But they encounter another block: the skill market. Skill market enables you to convert your skills into money ( it is also called monetisation of skills)

I had interacted with a coachee in 2001. Let us call him Shailesh. He had an excellent background in psychology. He tried to get a job in a company. Managed to find some work in a counselling company that counsells students.  He was working with many school students. But because counselling is problem oriented, he wanted to shift to coaching. However, that did not work out. Ultimately, he was so frustrated, that he left India last year, despite resisting going to west for last 10 years. 

People like Shailesh, encounter the vagaries of skill market. If you become a master in any skill, be it music, sports, programming or medicine,you expect 'money' to automatically come your way. But that does not happen because money follows another logic: the logic of skill-market.

Skill-market, like product market, has a different set of coherent rules. For instance, price of a product ( or skill) depends on its scarcity, branding, and other extraneous factors as much as the product's characteristics. Shaliesh could not get the 'price' of his counselling skill, because his skill had lesser demand in a country like India. But in western countries, this counseling skill is a premium skill. If one does not 'comply with this logic of skill market', one is unlikely to convert one's skills into comparable money.  Not all are like Dhiraj Rajaraman, who understood the functioning of skill market and therefore could monetise his skills smartly !

When you cannot monetise your 'best skills', you are disheartened and demotivated, because you think you are not getting what you deserve. If , however, you understand the functioning of skill-market, you may take radical decisions to monetise your skills if your skills are unique. But when you do not understand the functioning of skill market, you blame the entire world for not giving you the rewards you should have got. You become a whiner and waste all your formidable talents in 'whining' against the world !

Block 3: The power of Group's perception

While working in a company, one assumes that one does not face the whimsical logic of the market. But one encounters another equally powerful block in companies: the power of group perception !

When you work in any group of 50-100 persons, be it a MNC employer or a local employer, you encounter the power of perception. As we have discussed in this blog, given the high degree of specialisation in a company, and given the 'time scarcity' of senior executives, perceptions are heavily used to evaluate employees in a company more than the objective facts. 

In an organisation, perception is heavily used for evaluating your performance. Whether you like it or not, you live in the imperfect world of people ! Most of the excellent individuals, unaware of this dynamics, refuse to play by the rules of perception. For someone who is excellent in his work, he has to consciously learn this skill. It is easier to learn this skill early in life. But some excellent performers miss this age of learning.  Because of this lack of crucial skill, you will find many many professionals languishing in companies. 

But they do not languish silently!  Unable to understand the power of group perception, this excellent performer blames the entire world for not getting his deserved recognition. He becomes another whiner, but instead of whining against the entire world, he whines against the politics of companies. Companies call them 'disengaged individuals' who actively use their talents in 'harming' the company! ( Gallup's survey have found that more than 70% of the professionals in an organisation are disengaged!)

If you are aware of the New law of Achievement, you can actively anticipate these roadblocks in your career and get prepared to meet these challenges. Or you can fall by the wayside and become a world class whiner! What choice do you want to take? 

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Do you tackle problems or anticipate challenges?

Problems-  be it with boss, wife, work, or with life -  have to be addressed in life. But tackling problems is a time consuming way of dealing with life. It is rectifying the situation to bring back the status to normal. Nothing more. Tackling problems therefore often wastes lot of productive time.

Why do problems happen? They happen because you missed to do something that you should have done. They happen because you did not foresee something in advance, and therefore were not prepared to deal with the situation in the right manner. Problems happen because you were surprised with something emerging and were not ready to counter it quickly enough. In short, problems happen because you missed doing something yesterday. Problems are the result of yesterday's work not done well. It is far more productive to prevent problems, instead of dealing with them after they happen.

But to move away from tackling problems, you have to anticipate the challenges coming ahead, and prepare in advance. If you do not take this simple preventive action, you keep on spending time on fire-fighting on the yesterday's issues, instead of creating your future.

For instance, when you are unable to persuade boss to give you a raise, it is because you did not anticipate the challenge that the boss is facing in giving you the raise! When you are unable to deal with wife's over-reaction to your refusal to go for sunday movie, you did not notice and observe the build up of her frustration and therefore did not deal with it proactively. When you are stuck up in a job that is not giving you any satisfaction, you have not done enough to understand what gives you satisfaction. 

Why anticipating a challenge is so difficult for a professional? Anticipating challenges is not a rocket science. It is simply pressing a pause button once a while and taking stock of the events to anticipate what is coming. Professionals can take this step easily. But they falter at the next step. They do not know 'how to tackle the impending questions'.

For instance, they do not how to tackle of the questions of boss if he starts sharing them? Or how to tackle the growing frustration of your wife of which you are also a source? Or how to find 'what gives satisfaction in the job? Unable to deal with these questions, professionals push these questions under the carpet and hope that they will get resolved by themselves.

Average Professionals, i found in my coaching, dodge such difficult questions, hoping that the questions will go away, if they do not look at them for a long time. On the other hand, successful professionals deal with this questions proactively. They actively seek a Mentor ( an elder, a relative, ex boss, or even a Guru) who can help them 'resolve' these questions. Resolving such questions about people and self is a critical thinking skill that every professional has to learn. Today, professionals have another option. They find a coach to learn this skill of anticipating and dealing with these questions before they become big.

In my coaching, i have observed that this is a key difference between average and successful professionals. While average professionals spend far too much time on dealing with yesterday's problems, successful professionals spend all their time in creating their future.

How are you tackling your problems? In advance or after the event? 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Can you make luck happen?

This is a question which i often encounter in my career talks and seminars. There is a technical answer to this question, which i had found very difficult to simplify until i met Anushka last week. And, in her scenario, the luck equation fitted so well that the whole 'mystery of luck' got unravelled for me. So here is an attempt to articulate.

So let us define luck first..

 Luck is the emergent property of a system** ( caused by multiple stakeholders who are working for their own interest) that becomes 'favourable' or 'unfavourable' to someone in the system.

When it is favourable , we call it good luck. When it is unfavourable, we call it bad luck. We discussed case of Manmohan Singh in an earlier blog. Narsimha Rao picked Manmohan Singh in 1991 because it perfectly matched his need of a good finance minister who will help India get out of the big financial mess. Similarly, Sonia Gandhi picked him for PM in 2004, because his profile fitted the need of hour. This is a perfect example of how the emergent property of system became favourable to Manmohan Singh, not just once, but twice. Manmohan Singh was the right man at the right time. And if you read the above blog, you will find that but for the support of Narsimha Rao, Manmohan Singh may not have survived the tough baptism ( third time lucky!). In other words, one has to wait for luck to happen

There is another way. One can 'read' the system and wait for the emergent property to happen. One of the best example of this is in cinema making. Anurag Kashyap, Anubhav Sinha or Tingmanshu Dhulia could not have made their type of movies in 1990 ! It took lot of events to alter the 'cinema system' to make these new type of movies work. For instance, the emergence of multiplexes ( that enabled audience of 300 economical to see a movie), deregulation of TV ( that brought in lot of new actors and directors on the horrizon), availability of finance due to corporatisation of cinema production made it possible for 'niche' movies to be made 'commercially successful'. When the system is too big to be influenced, one has to wait. If these directors were born 20 years back, we would not have been able to hear about their work, despite their honest intentions, hard work, and enthusiasm. 

So can you make luck happen? You have three options.

Option 1: If you can read the system relevant to your work area and make yourself 'ready' to benefit from the emergent property of the system, you can make luck happen. For instance, if you were working in software industry, you could have read the emergence of Data Analytics like Dhiraj RajaRaman did in 2004, and made luck happen like him.

Option 2: You can also make the luck happen, if you are able to re-program your mind and understand the inherent unpredictability of outcomes. This is what Andy Murray did with his career. He lost two Grand Slam Finals in 2012. But despite these losses, he did not forget that 'Outcomes are not in one's control'. By adhering to this simple rule, he managed to keep 'stress' under control. And when the opportunity came in US Open Finals, he won that finals despite playing poorly in the final.

On the other hand, if one fails to follow this rule of 'Outcome not being in one's control', one tries to 'change' the system too forcibly. If one tries to force the system to suit for oneself, one can only be breaking one's head against the wall. The effort is misdirected and often does not produce the desired result. Observe the career of Sharad Pawar, a very astute politician of NCP. He tried too many things to 'alter' the system to 'suit' him, but despite his good credentials, he is unable to become PM. 

Option 3: Instead of waiting for the system to alter, learn to 'read' the system and then learn to influence the system slowly and carefully. If you are working in a bounded system like an organisation, this is more easy to do. I have helped professionals who wanted to 'grow' in an organisation despite heavy odds stacked against them. It takes patience, tact and capacity to 'read' the system, but it is possible. 

Do you want to make luck happen in your life? 
***Systems thinking is a 'thinking' where properties of 'whole' take predominance over 'parts'

Monday, November 05, 2012

Blog on excellence

This blog has been removed because the content was not compatible with Enlight framework in many ways.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

If you do not grow mentally, your work performance dips sooner or later

We have seen how tennis players playing brilliantly and winning the same points as their opponents, still lose the match. Similarly, the gap between work-output and the resulting outcome in some professional's life is too big. Despite being excellent technically and cognitively, they tend to suffer from poor outcomes in terms of rewards, reputation or promotion.  They could be intense in their desire to produce something; they also could be committed; but somehow the final result eludes them. Bridging this gap of output and outcome is possible with mental growth. Let us see how. 

If you have to bridge this yawning gap between your efforts and results, you have to stop thinking about improving your technical skill, cognitive skill, or sports skill ; you have to increase your tactical skill and grow mentally.   

First key to bridge the gap between output and results is Tactical skill 

One of the simplest direct way of bridging the gap between output and outcome is gaining tactical knowledge of the situation: the knowledge of what to do in a current job. Not trying to do everything, but doing something that matters at the time.  Tactical knowledge is the knowledge of determining the type of action to do and the timing of when to do them in your job. 

In his interview, Andy Murray writes this about tactical knowledge. He said "When I was young, my tactical knowledge, knowing how to win matches, was always one of my best attributes." This is a key attribute of winning a match.  Some players take years to learn this skill. Cricketers call this this the gift of 'shot selection'. In music and entertainment industry, it is called the gift of 'deciding whom to work for what'.

The same is true for corporate professionals. Corporate professionals also have to learn this skill. This skill looks very intuitive and innate. But one can learn this intuitive skill by learning systems thinking. One can understand the metasystems of one's job and find how to use the interdependencies of the job to produce outputs that matter.  We have seen how a corporate professional can learn this intuitive skill some time back.

Second key in bridging the gap between output and outcome is Mental growth

Second key  is growing mentally. If you are wondering  how 'mental growth' helps in producing any 'concrete results' in the real world of action and performance, here is what Andy Murray said about mental growth helped him win his first Grand Slam Open. 

Murray said that  the key thing he has picked up from Alexis Castorri, his psychologist from Florida ( in the above mentioned interview), is "learning how to deal with people a little bit better". You must be wondering how dealing with people helped Andy Murray in improving his on-court performance ! This is what Andy Murray had to say, "When my mind isn't free of everything, when things might be frustrating me away from the court, I can't focus as well as I need to. But when my mind's clear, I can go on the court and play, not worry about anything else. I can play much better and think a lot better on the court."

In other words, by avoiding distractions, mind learns to focus.  And gaining focus is the key to produce excellence. Gaining focus is not about doing something directly related to work, it is about using your mind effectively. If you watch yourself during the day, you will often observe that hundreds of thoughts fleet in the mind. Psychologists tell us that about '60,000' thoughts stream in our mind during the day. So our mind is constantly distracted by these thoughts. In the case of Andy Murray, his psychologist  perhaps found that Murray was distracted more because of his people relationships.  The psychologist therefore helped him remove that distraction, which indirectly helped him gain focus in his on-court time! In your case, if you are distracted by something, your mental work helps you keep those distractions away. Some of the distractions are subtle, like in Andy Murray's case, while sometimes the distractions may be large. You have to find that out in your case!

One of the key aspect of work performance of a corporate professional is taking better decisions in corporate world. We have seen how successful corporate professionals and entrepreneurs can manage to keep their focus in taking important decisions by managing the depletion of their mental energy.  

Another common way to gain focus on performance, is to reduce the stress of performance. For a tennis player, sports psychologist help tennis players in reducing their stress by helping them manage their disappointment after a point is lost, increasing focus on the first game of a new set, tackling the frustration of losing a point which was almost won, keeping focus with a player of lower ranking and so on. We have seen how corporate professionals can also manage their stress.   


Mental growth indirectly improves work-performance and excellence by reducing outside distractions; gaining focus on a chosen task by channelising mental energies smartly, and by helping one manage stress of the work-performance better.  I have seen professionals spend extraordinary energy and efforts to learn the technical and cognitive skills, but completely ignore the development of mental growth. Only when they do not get the desire rewards and outcomes from their work-performance, they approach a coach like me. If professionals however learn to grow mentally , in parallel with their intellectual pursuits, it will save them lot of efforts and tons of disappointment and frustration. What are you doing in your life? 

Monday, October 01, 2012

If a professional cannot modify his winning strategy, he becomes a unknowing victim of corporate politics

As we have seen in the blog on excellence, strategy like driving, has to be constantly relearnt, and modified to keep it useful when the situation changes.

We cannot keep on performing well, if we follow the same old strategy of excelling which was useful in the earlier stage. Players know this principle of excellence well. No sooner a tennis player wins a first grand slam,he has to modify his excellence strategy, otherwise his win becomes a flash in the pan. Very few tennis players can do this. That is why we get very few Roger  Federers and Nadals in tennis. The same is true for a cricket player. When a player plays for the first time for India, he has to modify his strategy of excelling. If he cannot do it quickly enough, he is out of reckoning. Few like Virat Kohli have done it, but many players cannot modify it quickly enough. By the time they have altered their strategy, the opportunity window may have closed. The player does not get place in the team, even though he may have modified his strategy of excelling. In other words, the excellence strategy has to be modified fairly quickly before the opportunity window is closed.

1. Excelling strategy has to be altered in the first job itself

No sooner you start working in a company in your first job, your strategy of excelling that have helped you perform well in college, are no more valid. You have to understand the tasks that you are supposed to do in your job - either as programmer, sales officer, or production engineer - and learn to perform them well. We have discussed some of the challenges of tasks of doer in earlier blog.  Four primary strategies for excelling in a job that have to be learnt as a doer are perception management, learning communication skill to get across your point, boundary thinking and learning organisation protocols of meeting, disagreeing and sharing.Very very few professionals learn these four primary excelling strategy in their first job within the opportunity time window. And when they obviously fail, their only choice is to leave the company. That is why you see so many professionals changing 2/3 jobs in the first 5 years !

2. Excelling strategy has to be altered for every new role

Most of the professionals somehow manage to find their feet, at least in the second or third job. Their second challenge comes when they seek a role-change.

The role change can either be horizontal or vertical. Horizontal movement is possible in sectors like software, engineering consulting and free-lance segments like accounting and others. However, more than often, professionals avoid horizontal growth ( even if it suits them) because of the glamour of vertical growth that has been attached to managerial positions.

We have seen the different excelling strategies that a doer has to acquire to perform well in managerial position. In another blog, we have also discussed the complexities of managerial jobs and the difficulty in developing the strategy of excelling in negotiating them. We have discussed how a mentor is necessary to help you  develop the excellence strategy required to negotiate these cognitive jobs.

3. Excellence strategy has to be altered to meet different life objectives

When we do not have money, we are just trying to focus on current performance and not seeing too much ahead. Sometimes, the focus is so much on current performance that one does not see the next challenge that is coming one's way. And when a professional does not alter the strategy of excelling in time, it completely derails his performance in the next role. He unknowingly invites 'poor performance'. For instance, in my coaching practice, I have seen many failures in the new role of department heads because performing the role of department head entails not only the 'deep understanding of that function '(be it sales, quality or even finance), but also how that 'function' integrates with other functions. Most of the department heads fail to alter their strategy of excelling and keep on protecting the 'narrow interests of their function' instead of 'protecting the performance of the larger company in which the function is just a part' !

Similarly, the transition from 'doing the job for money and reputation' to 'doing job for one's sake' is achieved by very few professionals because it requires one to acquire a very rare habit of excellence, the habit which Andy Murray acquired in his first Grand Slam win. As Andy Murray said, that he may have achieved many wins if he was in a different era than that of Federer or Nadal, but he would have been a poorer player. Andy Murray was speaking for all the real winners who win 'to excel because they want to better themselves'.One of the key winning strategy that has to be learnt to negotiate this transition is by finding meaning in life


Excellence strategy has to change because the 'situational context' of the work, role or objective changes. The context determines what is important to perform the work. You may or may not have the requisite skill necessary to produce the work-performance initially. You have three choices: get ready before the skills are needed and/or colloborate with others who have the requisite skills and/or and manage perceptions of metasystems until the skills are developed. 

Most of the professionals know only of the last choice: the choice of using perception management. And that is why, you will observe, that smart professionals who can talk well succeed in a corporate life. But what about those who cannot manage perceptions? Despite their talent, they lag behind. They become unknowing victims of the corporate life. And so they start complaining about the 'corporate politics'. But , not having learnt the other two skills, aren't they themselves to blame?  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Are you ready to lose the war to win the battle?

As we have seen in the earlier blog, excelling in life is about using unforced situations to make the right choices most of the time to enhance your knowledge in the areas of your strengths as well as using forced difficult situations in life to grow mentally.  For this to happen, one has to battle with the mind's demons all the time. Because this whole battle happens in one's mind and cannot be seen or monitored from outside, it is therefore a battle against oneself.

But contrary to the common belief, excelling is not about winning every point, every game or even a set. If you have seen the Andy Murray's US Open win, you will appreciate this principle of winner. Infact, excellent winners use the losses in wars to prepare themselves to win the bigger battle. Winners use three winning strategies to help them win even from losses. Let us understand Andy Murray's win from this perspective.

1. Until he consolidates his strengths, winner does not worry about losing  

A baseline player like Andy Murray likes to play from the back of court. He does not like to go to the net even when it is easy to win a point. Despite what the critics and analysts have been telling him, Andy Murray does not still go to the net. If you see the match statistics of US Open, you will see that he came 24 times to the net, as compared to 56 times for Djokovic. Andy Murray was ready to lose points at net. Instead of using net, Andy murray preferred to consolidate his forehand which, according to Boris Becker, was a significant factor in Murray's win.

If you see Pravin and Angad's case, you will see that excellent professionals in knowledge field use the same strategy. Angad consolidated his strength of 'sales', even though he did not like 'sales'. So even though, you may not like working in software, BPO, or in any other function, please consolidate your strengths before you move into a new function, domain, skill, or venture. Being prepared to lose 3-5 years helped Angad win the ultimate battle.

2.While flowing with the unfolding of events, excellent winner does not think of losing 

When a server in tennis has made a good serve, he has a upper hand in the point. The receiver has to be defensive and play defensively. In such a situation, receiver has to flow with the unfolding of the shots and learn to wait for the right time to strike. If the opportunity does not come in that point, he has to let the point go without letting his mind affected by the loss of point. Sometimes, when an excelling professional is serving well, he loses many games before he gets an opportunity. The exceller uses this strategy to train his mind to wait (and not get impatient) so that he can play the right shot at the right time. Without training his mind, he tends to play low-percentage shots and try to manipulate the events forcibly.

Knowledge professional finds it very difficult to use this excelling strategy. I often find professionals reacting to the events instead of learning from the events.  Many professionals, for instance, approach me in May/June  to change their jobs, because they have get less than expected rating ( or increments) in their current jobs during the year-end performance appraisal? Instead of learning the dynamics of rating or increments, they just run away from it and then tend to repeat the mistake in new company! Instead of remaining with the flow, professionals are desperate to 'change the flow' forcibly, often causing too much of hardship for themselves. And more importantly, they never learn the winning habit of 'waiting for the right time to strike' which is a must-have skill of winner.

3. Losses are useful to tame the demon of Self doubt 

The demon of self doubt is always lurking in the corner. It can be best tamed when one suffers a loss.   Recall how Lendl helped tame the demon of Andy Murray's Self doubt after losing to Djokovic in Australian Open of 2012. Instead of saying 'he lost again', he said 'He got a self belief that if he could hang in, he could win'.It is more important to remember that Self doubt has to be tamed, not banished from the mind, because it is very useful to keep one's feet firm on the ground when one is winning.

Without self-doubt, one starts believing that 'he alone has caused the outcome of winning'. As we have seen, this  belief 'that we can produce outcomes' is unrealistic. And having unrealistic beliefs does not help us in sustaining our habit of excellence. Losses therefore are useful to tame the self doubt and keep it alive because it is required to sustain the excelling habit. If you hear Roger Federer's interviews after winning his match, you will see how he credits his wins to outside events and situations !

For a knowledge professional, this strategy is even more important. In an organisational dynamics, one often gets 'undue credit' for an outcome ( like big sales order, or good project management) because the team and colleagues performed well. Without self doubt, professionals often get the success in their head as they start believing that 'they alone' are responsible for their success. In corporate life, you will find many such 'one-victory'  professionals who survive with their one brilliant performance. They are unable to regain their winning habits, because they could not tame their self doubt.


In short, losses and successes both are required to sustain excellence practice because both are just feedbacks to your way of thinking. Like Thomas Edison said ' I have not failed 1000 times. I have successfully discovered 1000 ways of not making a bulb'. If you have to practice the habit of excellence, you will invariably win some and lose some.  And that is why it is important to be prepared to lose , if you have to excel.

Are you prepared to lose to sustain your excellence habit? 

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Map the organisational interdependencies when you join a new company

When you join an organisation, it is important to know the expectations from your job, the constraints and opportunities in the new job, the interconnects with other departments that can help or hinder your performance in the job and the organisational protocols. This should be done in the first month of the job. But while doing this mapping, one needs to approach from the top.

Map the boss to whom you are reporting 

When you join an organisation as Sales manager, R&D manager, or Project Manager, it is important to clearly define your role. But before understanding your role, it is important to understand the role of your boss, of which you are a unit.

For instance, if you are a sales manager of Mumbai Region, you must identify the role and responsibilities of your boss who may be designated as GM ( Sales), or VP(Sales). Understand the importance of Sales ( or R&D) in your company. Are the top people supposed to have worked in Sales function before they reach the top? In the organisational scheme of things, what is the role of sales function visavis marketing? And delivery? Between all other functions, what is the role and power of sales? Understand the budgets that your function has? 

In order to understand this well, it will often require a helicopter view of the company vis a vis competitors. What is your company's explicit vision? If your company has operations in the world, what is the importance of India operations to its global balance sheet?  If you are joining a company at a higher hierarchy, this analysis provides you with high leverage actions. But even at lower levels, it is very useful. A MBA degree helps in doing this analysis. But a help from a MBA colleague or friend is also enough if one knows how to get this help. But doing this analysis often provides one many ideas that can spell a big difference to your success in a new organisation.

Only after the role of function ( sales, R&D, or delivery) has been understood, identify the person who is your boss. What kind of credibility does he enjoy in the company? How long has he been with the company? What are his strengths and weaknesses as others see them? What is the formal power and informal power of your boss? Is the power derived out of position, authority or expertise? How is his relation with his boss? What is your boss being measured against? What are his KPI's ? 

Map your role in the function along with your constraints and opportunities

Understand what is expected of your role in clear terms. There is a big difference between explicit and implicit role. A job in R&D may include also the work of productionising a new product idea in one company which may not be present in another company. A project manager in a specific company may include customer management , but in another, it may be different.

Once the role is clearly understood, understand the KPI's ( Key Performance Indicators) of your job. They are the metrics against you will be measured. They determine the yardstick by which you will be termed as 'successful' in your job. Here again there are explicit and implicit KPI's. Both need to be understood.

And more importantly, you need to understand the official and unofficial support that the organisation is offering you to perform your role and deliver your KPI's. The official support may be in the form of budgets, policies, formal processes ( how to include new customer requirements in a current project, for instance) and flow of information (how is the project doing) to take your decisions. These last two are difficult to dig out but surprisingly influence your job considerably. 

The unofficial support is equally important. It includes the ability to override policies in emergency situations, help in the form of quick decisions from the boss, and informal protocols that govern the day to day work ( such as when to fill up the customer reports). 

Map the horizontal departments and the people in those roles who influence your job performance (this is mapping the interdependence of your role)

In my coaching, I have often observed that professionals ignore to do this mapping. But producing any significant output in a company often requires to coordinate our work with others as a team. An organisation often provides explicit support in this coordination of work, but not everything can be made explicit. Therefore the extent of coordination is determined by the informal culture of the organisation. This is often invisible to an outsider. One has to take conscious effort in wearing a special kind of filter lens to see this.

First identify the colleagues within the department, their roles and the person behind the role. For instance, in project management, you may have to interact with other project managers to fulfill your job. Or R&D manager has to work with other legal counterparts to fulfill their role. Or sales manager has to function with other sales managers. Each colleague is performing a function. They depend on you to fulfill their function and you have to depend on them to fulfill your function. If the interdependence is mutual, it helps. When it is lopsided, then either you have more power to help/hurt others or vice versa.

Once the interdependence of colleagues is mapped, then map the interdependence with other departments. If you are in sales, you have to map the interdependence with marketing colleagues to get the right marketing support to promote your 'x' product in your territory. If you are a project manager, you have to map the interdependence with HR colleagues to get the right person when someone resigns. If you are a R&D manager, you have to depend on marketing colleagues to properly launch a product to succeed in the market. Their performance significantly affects your 'overall performance', but you do not control them. You can only influence them. And this requires considerable 'interdependence intelligence' to make it work.


This mapping of your role and organisational interdependencies spells the difference between succeeding or failing in a new organisation . Without this mapping, you are just roaming in the terrain. Your chances of reaching the destination depends on luck.

By mapping these interdependencies, however, you get a map of your terrain. The map helps you know where you stand what can you do next to reach the destination. The map helps you avoid costly mistakes, especially in the initial phase. And because mistakes are common in a work, it gives you a way of mitigating those failures so that they do not hurt you. More importantly, they clearly spell out the high leverage actions from the routine mundane actions so that you can focus on the more important and not get deluged by the daily routine. 

More importantly, this helps a professional in taking charge of his first priority: the priority of delivering immediate performance in his job. We have discussed elsewhere how he can deliver immediate performance. Please check it out. We shall later discuss the steps one has to take to ensure that one also simultaneously prepare to deliver long term performance. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Opportunities of excellence are missed due to ignorance

Let us compare case of Pravin and Angad. Here is a case of Pravin:

Pravin passed out as BSc graduate in 2004. After lot of attempts, he got his first job with a very big FMCG distributor as a Sales supervisor for an entire district near Mumbai. It involved going to different towns in the district, talking with sales representatives about their order situation, ensuring that the stocks are full in the retail outlets, ensuring that distributor is fulfilling the retail orders in time. The job involved visiting all main towns in a district and therefore involved travelling 22 days in a week. He worked for this company for 3 years. He left this company in 2008 and did a course of one year in Communication design. He is working in Web design now at the same salary.

Here is a case of Angad:

Angad passed out as BSc graduate in 2005. After lot of attempts, he worked for another big FMCG distributor in the same district as Pravin with similar responsibilities. Worked for 3 years. Changed the job to another FMCG distributor in the same distrifct with bare 10% increase in salary, but more responsibilities. Worked 3 years in the new job. He was sent for a short training program on retail management in 2011. In 2012, he got an offer from a big distributor in Mumbai at almost double the salary and with further more responsibilities. 

Why did Pravin missed the opportunity of producing excellence that Angad cashed on? If you can understand the invisible forces operating in the above cases ( i have purposely taken examples which are similar to each other), you will have learnt one of the most important lesson of career building ( or rather potential unfolding). So let us dwell on this and understand it better. 

To enable you to see the invisible forces, please understand the cycle of excellence before reading further

First step of Excellence : Choosing the potential skill set to focus

Both Pravin and Angad did not get the freedom of choosing 'which job to take' after their graduation. This normally happens due to two reasons: one, because the opportunities in the market are limited for a graduate, or when one is not sure of what potential he/she has in which area. Second reason is often the more dominant reason. The understanding of data to knowledge conversion is so inadequate in most individuals, that one is not aware of what 'potential skills' should one choose to unfold. Because one is not adequately prepared, one is forced to take up any opportunity that falls in one's lap. In this situation, we chose the first option that comes our way. 

In other words, we allow ourselves to follow a unfolding path offered by the market. Surprisingly, I have also observed some professionals who managed to make the most of the opportunity that comes their way. We will later understand why some can do this and why some cannot. 

Second step of Excellence cycle: Utilising the opportunities to strengthen the chosen potential skill set

There is big difference between Pravin and Angad in the second step: the step of utilising the opportunities to strengthen the potential area. While Pravin could not 'utilise' all the opportunities, Angad could do so. I have observed that a professional can tap his potential when he learns to understand and use the metasystem he is working and exploit the interconnections of it

For instance, Angad managed to help sales representatives to find more easier way of selling to retailers, because he understood the economics of retailers. Similarly, because he understood the economics of distributor better, he also could help the retailers. His ability to see and tie the interconnections between the various stakeholders - retailers, distributors, sales representatives - helped him perform in his job. On the other hand, Pravin complained about the 'difficult' retailers, 'impossible' distributors, and 'selfish' sales representatives. When a person cannot 'see and use the interconnections' , you will often find him blaming the 'people' behind the roles. Pravin was not aware of the basic lesson of systems thinking: People are not 'black or white', the roles make them black and white. 

Third step of Excellence cycle : Sticking to chosen potential skills for a long enough time 

Angad stuck to the domain of 'Sales management' long enough ( 3 plus 3 years) to convert his potential strength into some useful marketable 'skill'. Even though, he changed the employer with practically no raise, he stuck to his skill set of sales management. On the other hand, Pravin gave up in 3 years and moved to another skill. Ability to stick on one  skill set  is determined by one's ability to Regulate one's Self. 

Regulating Self also enables one to focus on something even when one is disappointed. For instance, i was surprised to find that Angad disliked the job of Sales as much as Pravin disliked it. But some professionals like Angad, despite being forced in a job which they do not like, still manage their "Self" smartly and stick to a chosen path for sufficiently long time to 'tap' their potential.


In early stages of career, it is important that one develops some 'marketable skill' quickly enough to 'unfold one's potential'. Angad is therefore right in his approach. Even though he may chose to leave 'sales domain' in the future, his ability to create a marketable skill early enough will allow him to 'identify and chose other potential' later.

On the other hand, Pravin, by choosing to shift his domain after 3 years has created a bigger problem for himself. After three years, he was not having a marketable skill on which he could bank. By choosing another domain after 3 years, he has reset the clock to Zero. He again has to 'tap' his new potential in Communication Design. If he fails in tapping it, he will have to again reset the clock to zero. As time passes, other pressure start building on: the pressure of marriage, the pressure of other's expectations, pressure of falling behind others. This pressure make it harder to regulate Self and therefore make it even more difficult to 'focus' on a potential path. Without focus, one fails to build a marketable skill. Bigger journey of unfolding of potential strength will never commence for him ! Even though for Pravin, he has chosen a wrong potential to unfold, his journey has started.

At what stage are you in your career? Are you on the journey of unfolding your potential strength or you still moving from one job to another with no idea of your potential strength?  Where are you stuck up? Is it at the first step or second step? Or is it the third step, where you know what you want to do, but cannot move from older potential area to a newer potential area? 

Thursday, July 05, 2012

If you are a decision maker, you have to learn this

Good decision making is not a skill that can be learnt in a classroom; it is developed by ‘being aware of the flow around oneself and making use of it’. In other words, it is not a static ability that can be learnt outside the playground (while doing MBA/Executive MBA), but a dynamic trait that can be learnt only on the playground; only when one is ‘aware of one's self and the situations around oneself'. Let us understand how. 

Good decision-making requires willpower, an ability to focus on ‘issues at hand long enough’ so that one can ‘choose’. Roy Baumeister and his colleagues have shown that willpower ( ability to focus our thoughts on something) is not 'constant', but it depends on our available mental energy . This mental energy is required for making choices as well as for resisting temptations. And as this mental energy is also consumed while taking small choices, our ability to take big decision is impaired.  The experiments of willpower now confirm our grandfather’s notion that willpower is like a muscle that is fatigued with use, and therefore our grandfather was right when he told us to conserve it by avoiding temptation. 

Both small/big choices and resisting temptations deplete willpower

We need willpower ( self control ) both for taking small or big decisions, or for resisting temptations that come along the way. Choosing what to have for breakfast, where to go on vacation, whether to go for a jog or not, what to shop at what price depletes mental energy and therefore the willpower. Even shopping , which involves trade-offs, also depletes willpower dramatically. At the same time, big decisions as whom to hire, which job to take, which flat to purchase also depletes willpower. 

Why do choices deplete mental energy? Because when we choose something, we also have to forsake other options. The word “decide” shares an etymological root with “homicide,” the Latin word “caedere,” meaning “to cut down” or “to kill”. This has now been proved by several researchers. One can also read Sheena Iyengar's Art of Choosing to understand the difficulties of decision making. 

Not so surprisingly, resisting temptations also depletes willpower. Resisting the decision of not to see the 11 pm night program, avoiding to have icecream after dinner, resisting to remain stoic in a emotional movie also depletes willpower. 

Effect of depleted mental energy

The cumulative effect of these temptations and small decisions is Ego-depletion, a word to name the 'state' of a person with a very low level of mental energy , lower than a threshold level. 

Ego depletion tends to make a feeling more intense than normal. When our ego is depleted, we tend to spend recklessly or say stupid things that we regret later. We have needless fights over turf. If we are making decisions, we take illogical shortcuts. We tend to favor short-term gains or chose safer and easier options instead of 'right' options. 

To compromise is a complex human ability and demands high mental energy. It is therefore the first to suffer when ego is depleted. You over-simplify decisions. If you are shopping, for instance, you will ignore other dimensions and just focus on one dimension, like price: just give me the cheapest. Or you may focus on quality: I want the very best (an especially easy strategy if someone else is paying). Or you may 'follow' others and buy what others are buying, finding solace in the majority. 

How do professionals take big decisions?

As our grandfathers had fewer decisions to make, they had less decision fatigue. Today in a typical office we are overwhelmed by the numerous choices we are forced to make. You come at the office and are fatigued with the continuous decision making that is forced on you - whether to reply to the mail, or continue to work  on the document that is unedited, or checking out with subordinates, or  follow a link to a website to get more information or call someone to get something done. Our ego-depletion is more likely to happen than our grandfathers!

Psychologists therefore have found that professionals with the best self-control are the ones who structure their lives so as to conserve willpower. By conserving their willpower, they do not oversimplify difficult decisions. Instead of waiting for the 'time' to take their decisions, they take tough decisions even if they do not like them. How do they manage to do this? They take four separate actions: 

1.They establish routines that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. Instead of deciding every morning when to get up and what to eat, they set up a schedule that is regular. Instead of using their willpower to exercise in the morning , they set up a work-out with a friend. They establish habits ( like eating early etc) that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. They avoid taking decisions when their routines are disturbed, such as when they are travelling.

2. They avoid getting into situations that will tempt them. For instance, instead of confronting their temptations to eat rich foods, they avoid buffets,  late night parties and weekend bashes. They avoid seeing needless TV serials that will unnecessarily create needless diversions and temptations. 

3.They delegate 'small decisions' to others: Taking decisions for others is more difficult than taking decisions for ourselves. These professionals learn to delegate decisions to subordinates, colleagues and even family members so that their mental energy is not depleted with small choices. This is easier said than done !

4.They take big decisions only when they are ready: Instead of counting on willpower to remain robust all day, they conserve it so that it’s available for emergencies and important decisions. For instance, they don’t schedule endless back-to-back meetings to avoid fast ego depletion. They do not take tough decisions in the late evenings. They do not take short cuts in taking big decisions. They confront big decisions even when they are unsettling. 

How do you take the big decisions in your life? 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How to deliver the outputs beyond your current job?

I read this interesting article in TOI that explains the difference in compensation of the professionals who constantly improve their capabilities. I was surprised to observe that small difference in the increment ( 15% for high performers visavis 5% for average performers) over a period of 35 years of working life can create a massive difference of 19 crores between a high performer and an average performer. And if both performers invests 30% of their income every year in various investments, that can result into a huge difference of 875% between the earnings of average and high performers. A simple math can show this difference.

But the key input in differentiating between average and high performers is not high academic credentials or the college from which you pass. It is not innate intelligence or ability. Neither is it 'technical knowledge or skill' ( which many graduates assume when they are passing from their colleges) about the subject matter. Nor is it about 'knowing the top bosses'. All these abilities could be important for a while, but are not the key to sustained improvement over a long period.

The key to sustain constant improvement (to justify 15% increase in salary every year') is delivering outputs that are beyond your current job. 

So here are five steps in delivering outputs beyond your current job

Step 1. List down the metasysems of your job

Metasystems are systems on whom you depend ( or who depend on you ) for getting key inputs/resources for your work- performance.

If you are working in sales in a pharma company, you depend on marketing ( for its marketing schemes both above the line and below the line), Finance ( credit limits for retail outlets) and you internal sales department's inputs ( which product to sell more, which geography will have higher sales budget), product development department ( who has developed a new product which is being tested in your territory). Finance department also depends on your 'collection target' achievement, while product development depends on your inputs in their product development efforts. So in certain cases, the dependencies are 'mutual. 

Step 2. Understand the purpose and criteria with which the metasystems are evaluating your work performance or depending on you to improve their work performance

Your sales metasystem is depending on achieving your 'total sales target', while finance is depending on your achieving your 'collection target', while product development depends on achieving your 'new product target'. It is important to understand the underlying 'purpose' of these metasystems, and the criteria by which they evaluate your work-performance. 

Step 3. Identify the constraints and supports that each metasystem is offering to improve your visible work performance

While sales metasystem is offering 'sales budget' as a support, marketing system is offering the 'marketing budget'. Product development may be offering 'extended budget', while finance may be offering 'good collection discounts' 

On the other hand, they also offer constraints. For instance, sales metasystem has the constraint of meeting 'x doctors a day' or 'three towns a month'. Marketing system has the constraint of promoting 'x' product more than 'y', which may be beneficial or harmful for your territory sales. 

Step 4. Identify the leverages ( within the constraints and support tools) that you can manoever

For instance, one can make three doctors' calls in a day by meeting 'three proximous doctors in a town', so that one can spend more time with a new doctor to get more mileage. Or one can use the marketing budget differently, say by offering more 'sales schemes' in one town and more 'off the shelf promos' in another town. Or one can meet the overall collection target, by targeting 'A' distributors. 

Step 5. Actively work with the perceptions of metasystem to ensure that your work performance is recognised

Each metasystem is evaluating you, although sales metasystem's evaluation is the more important one. Evaluation is often 'subjective' and based on perception

For instance, one has to be smart enough to sense that 'marketing' has more clout in designing a promotion scheme and use that knowledge judiciously to 'side' with marketing so that one's sales budgets can also be met. Or focus on meeting the target of product development in your territory ( because you are not able to meet your territory's target) and borrow 'additional time' to meet your sales targets. In other words, it is important to actively work with the perceptions of different metasystems. 


Delivering outputs beyond job is focussing on long term. Only by working on long term one can build those requisite long lead-time skills necessary in the future. Please remember that some skills develop fast and some at a slow rate. In order to ensure that your long term work performances is sustained, you have to build the long lead-time skills in time. If you are not prepared for this, it is double whammy for you: you miss the opportunity that comes your way, and by not preparing for the future job, your career growth automatically stops because you cannot perform well in those jobs. 

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Will Sachin Tendulkar be able to contribute as MP?

In a corporate field, these transitions from one role to another are common: moving from salesman to sales manager, sales manager to Marketing manager, GM Maintenance to GM production or VP Servicing to VP Governance. One of the roadblock required to negotiate such a transition is to adopt new skillset of the new role in a short time-window.

When a person shifts from one role to another, he can contribute to the new role only when he lets go the 'old skill set' and moves into the new skill set. If he is unable to complete this transition, he will continue to function in the old role. For instance sales manager will continue to function as a salesman whenever 'sales challenge' is presented to him by his deputee. For instance, I know of a Sales manager who use to go on the field with his sales officer if the sales officer 'failed' to crack the deal.

This creates a double whammy. On the one hand, the deputees do not learn their skills. Because they do not learn the skills,  their dependency on the sales manager increases which consumes all the time of sales manager. And because of this, the sales manager continues to function as 'highly paid salesman' , solving the problems of his team members one after another. 

Consequently, he does not have the time to learn the new skills to perform the new role of sales manager. He is unable to develop his team to function without him. He is unable to 'espouse' the cause of his sales team with the higher management because he does not spend time in 'garnering top management support'. With all his time spend on 'doing field calls', he is unable to  synergise with his colleagues, say from marketing, to find high leverage actions that will increase the productivity of his sales team. In short, he is unable to transit into the new role of sales manager

Given these challenges in functioning in a new role, will Sachin Tendulkar be able to contribute in the new role of MP? 

Observe what Sachin Tendulkar said when he was asked how he would take time out for Parliament from his busy cricket schedule. He said, 

"I did not go to anyone asking to be a Rajya Sabha member. It is an honour and I accept that with respect. However, I am here because of cricket. I cannot take focus away from cricket because that’s where it all began for me". “I will focus on cricket and as and when I stop playing, I will look at other things and see how I can help,” he added.

Although one can hail the above sentiments, how will this mindset enable Sachin to find time to learn the new skills of being a good Member of Parliament. 

For instance, he will have to learn why and how the different challenges of sportsperson have not been addressed by the 'political system' until now. Has it been due to lack of adequate budget? Has it been due to the mindset that 'sportsman' are elite lot? Or has it been due to lack of support from other MPs? In other words, he has to plan. To plan, he has to get into the 'muck' of the action, identify what needs to be done, and what he can do ( given his constraints of time?). But all this 'understanding' itself will demand lot of time, effort and attention. And this is just the first step. 

Only after he plans his actions, he will then have to spend even 'more time' in ensuring that the parliament takes some action on his plans. This requires another set of skills: skill to bring the issues on the table, muster the support of other MPs to ensure that his issue is not put under the table, and above all use 'public and social' media to garner the necessary support to keep the issue 'hot enough. Of course, he can take help from others in doing all this, but he still has to 'spearhead' the efforts? 

Given the mindset of Sachin Tendulkar, it is upto you to judge, if he can really find the time to learn the necessary skills to take all the above actions to make his contribution as MP. Will Sachin be able to transfer his 'single-minded' devotion from cricket to the new role and tasks of MP for the time being? Although Sachin's image and record will boost the expectations of sportsman in the country, will his good intentions alone be enough to produce the desired result in the system which , everyone recognises, is a herculean task?

Given this big challenge of performing in the new role, do you honestly believe that Sachin Tendulkar will be able to find time to contribute in the new role of MP? And if Sachin is unable to perform in the new role, should we blame our unrealistic expectations or Sachin Tendulkar? 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

One liner definition of Career success

Last week,i had gone to the college to talk on 'Steps to take to join corporate life'.A student asked me a question ' What is a definition of successful career?' Here is an attempt to write what i said.

Career is successful when 'you can remain apart in your work-life system while becoming part of it'. The balance between becoming part and remaining apart is dynamic; it has to be constantly maintained; not just achieved once. 

The word 'system' is used with a specific meaning. It is not a political system, or religious system, or an IT system. It is not a system of rules and procedures. A system 'is an interdependent connection of elements that together interact with each other to achieve a purpose'. 

Work-life systems

For instance, in your work-life, you engage with a team: a job-system where 'you work with other team members in a given constraints of rules to achieve a useful work-output that market values'. When you become 'part' of your job-system, you flow with the work; you enjoy the company with your team and your skills are utilised. Excellent work-output is produced. We achieve what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls, the state of flow and happiness

But being part of job-system is not enough to sustain extraordinary performance in a job. Doing a job for a short time is possible by just being part of the job system. But to sustain the interest over a long time, it is important that you remain apart from it. To remain apart, you must have a 1000 feet perspective of your work. This enables you to see how your work fits with others in the sequence. You can view the 'whole' that your work is 'part of'. You can have 'insights' that can make a difference to work. You can convert the team's work-output better by 'managing' the 'external elements of work'.

More importantly, when you view your job-role from a distance, you can relate work with rest of your life and understand that work is not just for earning money. You can find your 'meaning' in work. Finding meaning is a personal journey that we explored in other blog. I may find meaning in working in software, while you may find meaning in working in education. We may take help from others, but we cannot borrow our meaning from others. Even if you may get money from your work by being part of your job system, you will remain 'dissatisfied' when you cannot remain  apart in your job- system.

Other sub-systems of work-life are skill-market system that helps you monetise your given skills, metasystem that helps you gain support from others, skill-arithmetic system that helps you grow your skills. 

Importance of self-awareness  

Students and professionals feel that it is 'waste of time' to see work beyond money and skills. But when one fails to engage in self and find meaning in work, one can become successful for a while, but cannot sustain successful performance for long. Like what happened with Tiger Woods. In one stroke, his extraordinary talent in Golf was brought to naught. 

Or take another example of a corporate stalwart: Rajat Gupta. (Google his name to find his excellent work-record) Here is one professional who has achieved the best in his life: Money, recognition and contribution.Rajat Gupta, is the most prominent corporate figure indicted in a broad US government crackdown on insider trading, accusing him of supplying Rajaratnam with business secrets between March 2007 and January 2009 while serving on the boards of Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Procter & Gamble.  

On the other hand, when one can balance between being part and apart of work-life system, one can find options which none have ever thought.See what Nandan Nilekani did with his work-life. Or what some professionals like Nishanth Baranwal and Vaibhav Lodha are doing ( by becoming consultants to Ministers) to make a difference on a grand scale. 

Work-life success therefore depends on maintaining this 'dynamic balance' between being part of a job-system and remaining apart from a job-system. When professionals succeed, they achieve this 'balance' automatically and unconsciously. They do not even understand what have they done to achieve it. They sense that something is wrong only when 'something' disturbs the balance. And then they change their jobs, get overburned, go to Himalayas, or do something silly! 

Note of caution

While working in a job, we also work with people. In other words, to succeed in our work-life, we are compelled to engage in people-systems ( relationships). The same rule of balancing between 'being part and apart 'applies in people-systems.We will later explore how to maintain this balance in people-system.

Advantage of this simple definition

Because systems thinking has a long history,it is easy to master the skill of being part and apart in a system. One only needs to learn to view 'invisible interconnections' in one system. That is enough to help one see invisible interconnections in other systems: learning can be easily transferred. The earlier you start, the better it is. Welcome to the new world of career-making !