Saturday, December 26, 2009

Building Teams - Part 1 - Assuming Leadership

I've been fascinated with 'teams' for a long long time. I've also been a student of the subject for the past nine years. Building corporate teams is bit different although there are more similarities with other teams such as sports teams etc.

The Key difference comes in the form of voluntary vs paid team members! Just that cause is bigger than the paid incentive! (This is more true in the case of Generation Y ers)

There are plenty of times where we've read that story about the legendary CEO coming to the rescue of a company, streamlined staff, got rid of 'excess baggage' through voluntary retirement etc. and then turned around the company from red to green. While these stories are motivational and moral boosting, most of us who fall into the category of 'rest of the leadership team' as department heads, rarely will have that sort of luxury or free way.

In big corporate structures, many of the critical elements of remunerating employees are beyond the individual discretion of a department head. For instance, salary structures and other perks cannot to be offered to an individual just the way you want. Various other factors such as equality, fairness etc relevant across the organization do play a significant role in determining those. Especially during difficult times such as these adjustments to salaries could be even more difficult.

So how do we go about building that great team with all the typical issues, any department head has to counter.

There are multiple methods of developing teams and it very much bottle downs to the individual style of the team leader.

If you are a leader who assumes a new role as a department head then, you very much inherit an existing culture among your team members. You need to be mindful of the repercussions and complications of the existing culture before you go about trying to align the rest to your way. One needs to identify and understand aspects of the existing culture which can compliment the new culture you intend to inculcate in your team. One should go about speaking to as many employees as possible taking a stock of their point of view on the existing modus operandi. However these discussions must serve as feedback sessions and not to indicate any form of opinion. Also many 'politically inclined' employees might attempt to win you over and as a new boss you need to be extremely mindful on this fact.

Depending on the size of the team and the magnitude of the change from the existing statusquo you need to go about announcing such changes. However prior to that one does need to identify several key alleys' among the existing staff. This is not to politicize the process but to ensure you do have ground level assistance and feedback. Key to any change is the credibility you develop along the way. Changes may be tough for all involved but as long as you are consistent to your vision and align all your actions including reward and punishment, I think people will live with that.

Remember your superiors play a pivotal role in this whole processes, prior to engaging any activity one needs to 'sell' your new vision to them. It is paramount that you do have 'C-Suite' sponsorship and endorsement for your action. Failure to do so will lead to detrimental results.

One needs to give every employee every chance possible to change for the better. One needs to set expectations right from the beginning and give candid feedback along the way. One word of caution though, you don't have to be democratic in every endeavor, but do listen to people all the time and then make YOUR decision.

Something that has worked for me all the time with all sorts of people is the genuine one to one dialogue. You tell them your expectation and check with them whether it is possible.

One of the greatest reward capacities that you have in your disposal as a departmental head is your ability to give them opportunities to perform tasks. Do not undermine this. It is a major tool you have, provided you use it right. Check for their aspirations and also try to identify personal gaps, meaning personal developmental needs of your team members. Some companies have a policy of only developing 'requisite' technical skills. This is not a smart move at all. Now as much as possible develop them for their full potential. It pays for the company and adds value for the team as well. Speak to them regularly about their gaps and more importantly about the progress they are making if any. Give them assignments and projects, allow them to make certain mistakes. Seek their feedback regarding important tasks and acknowledge good suggestions and reward such initiatives through pubic praise. People do respond to this and it creates a want to be part of a team.

Well these strategies have worked for me. I'm sure there are plenty of other methods some of you would have tried. Feel free to share!

To be continued..........

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Internships - Best way to get your ideal job

For the past couple of years I had the opportunity to work with many interns. For common understanding, an intern is essentially a person who is just out of college, university or who formally wants to spend sometime in between academic years in an commercial environment to acclimatise themselves with the corporate world. I've worked with 16 year olds who come for a week to 24 year olds who come for several months.

There are multiple ways of landing with a good internship job. Some companies advertise for certain limited positions, but more often than not it is your personal contact which gets you the job. All those who have come to work with me belongs to the latter. So make sure your have your contacts worked out!

While I never had the good fortune, I firmly believe this is the best way for someone to find their first job in the corporate world. Let me explain how.

As an apprentice if you are very clear and specific about the type of job you want to take up as a career then you would request for an internship in that particular department(Finance, Marketing, Sales, Procurement, HR, IT, Operations etc). If not you would try your hand at couple of departments before deciding on the ideal. Just a word of caution, to make the internship more meaningful, make it at least 4 weeks and if not a lot more.

Here's what you get a during an internship. Be ready to go through the worse the job can offer. Pretty much like the hospitality industry where a hotelier starts his career from the kitchen, peeling bags full of vegetables. Request you to be given the lowest level of work. If it is a sales job, make sure you get on the field!

Remember during internship you will understand and begin to appreciate a lot about the industry itself. Make sure your internship goes beyond the usual work hours. Spend extra time understanding the business further. Request extra work within the department. Whereever you have the opportunity, engage in inquisitive discussions about the business with the respective department head. Apart from learning a lot, with your 'non brainwashed mind' you might be able to add real value to the organization in the form of useful observations. As much as possible ask for specific projects with surefire deliverable.

While at work try to identify and study successful people in that company. Watch them carefully and try to model their successful traits. It's not about changing who you are, but rather it is about identifying and applying those traits.

Remember as an apprentice you might "not find the most accommodating boss all the time. But be sure to learn whatever possible under various circumstances. Checkout my July 09th blog posting on

As much as possible try to receive feedback from your superiors (the person who is assigned as your mentor or even the department head himself). Ask them to be blunt with their feedback. Tell them you prefer the truth about how you are fairing and make sure that they treat you like an equal and not as a 'kid'.

Pay special attention to the soft skill gaps of yours. You are bound to come across those whom you would rate as excellent be it in dress sense, public speaking, mingling with people, negotiations, leading etc. Identify their levels and more importantly identify your gaps. You will not be successful in bridging the gap, but it is worth a million to know the gap so that slowly but surely you could work towards bridging that. Ask your colleagues to give candid feedback in this regard.

Most young adults tend to look for the best paying internship or the comfortable internship when considering one. This is dead wrong. Money should not be a consideration point ever.Greediness for couple of thousand bucks could make you miss out on an opportunity which is priceless. Ideally you should do it FOC!

I always make it point to stretch interns to their maximum limits. I've given them projects with total financial responsibilities and to date none of them have failed me. In fact their projects have been up to the mark, novel and more importantly successful. I've also come across people who are excellent in their technical skills but lacks very important traits such as credibility. For example the playful types sometime bring on board with them their bad school habits! Staying back home without informing for several days and not keeping up to their words etc.I'm glad they are on internships and not on a paid job because if they had been in a proper job, they are destined loose big time.

Now why should someone go through all this trouble?

Well to start off with having couple of projects under your belt will give you an edge over other competitors in your ideal job interview. Your limited grooming would project you as a 'mature' person compared to the others. Once landed with the job it will make your acclimatisation much faster which enables you to perform quickly. And, may be, just may be, that your internship organization would be happy with your work that they may just decide to hire you immediately or subsequent to your studies!