Monday, April 19, 2010

Take the rough road to sharpen your skills

This weekend I took a longer route on my regular biking endeavor. Although the root was long and it had its fare share of mini hills to tire me out, it also was a carpeted road for half of the journey. Couple of KM in to the journey I realized my level of sweating was low and further it was a smoother ride as well. Now my purpose of riding is to exercise myself better and experience more of a rougher terrain. I'm not an exercise expert but as far as I'm concerned (I may be completely wrong) when I take on a rougher terrain it gives a better feeling and really feel the workout on my arms!

With the carpeted road to ride, I made a conscious choice. I decided to take the gravel side of the road which was uneven and with plenty of potholes. Instantly the ride became rougher and I consciously enjoyed every bit of that 13 or so KM because I knew its going to give me better exercise.

While I was doing that it made me realize, in life in general and corporate life specifically, you should make sure you take the rough road when needed to, although an easier path is available. After all, at a certain stage in your career and in life, its better to take the rougher road because it will groom you for bigger hurdles in life!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Goal Attainment - Yeah I got my Cholesterol levels under control

I've got some personal achievement to celebrate. My latest reports indicate that I have managed to bring my cholesterol levels within the acceptable range after trying it for over 6 years!!

Yes for almost six years I've been trying various things to bring it under control but all efforts didn't result in any meaningful progress. It was always higher than the maximum tolerant levels. Last December when I went for my annual check up, I got a red flag like never before. was told that my risk levels are even higher because of its hereditary nature as well.

With home front pressure being enormous I decided to take some drastic action. The very next day I went to bicycle shop and bought a decent mountain bike and I peddled 14 km to reach home that evening. Ever since on average I've done1-2 trips, spanning for almost 22- 31 km per trip, every weekend. When there were holidays I made it point to do an additional trip. I also exercised on the obitrek for almost 30 -45 minutes a couple of times a week.

The other major change I forced my self in to was moving away from rice and curry and getting in to a steamed vegetable and fish chicken diet for lunch. It's tough on the home front to do it everyday, but for my sake they do it. Its not a vegetarian diet.

While I have controlled excessive junk food and fizzy drinks, I haven't completely moved out of them as yet.

Having tasted success after 6 years on something that I have not been able to do, I am more than determined to improve on my results further. I have continuously exercised (biking and obitrek) for the past 4 days. I'm determined to keep the average hereafter at 4 days a week (minimum) with attempts being made to take it to 5 if possible. I also want to control my diet further.

Let's see how determined I can be!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Corporate Training, What's wrong with it?

This is a posting inspired by an ongoing discussion in one of the Linkedin discussion threads.

Every organization today is spending millions of dollars on an annual basis to train its staff on a variety of skills. Companies have come a long way in the field of HR and specially training. There is a lot of science and technicalities behind the subject. How comfortable are the senior management and HR with regard to the effectiveness of training or the money spent on training?

One of the contemporary and strong arguments with regard to training is that it should be linked to KPIs and competency based performance appraisals. While this is well and true, as the age old saying goes there are multiple stakeholders in this process and lapses by any of them could lead to failure in realizing the intended requirements of training people.

Main actors include the trainee, the supervisor, affected parties through manifestation(peers, direct reports and direct contacts), organization (as the funding authority) and of course the trainer.

Bad or a wrong trainer is a no-brainer and we don't need to talk about it.

Most structured companies follow a process where individual training requirements are identified as part of an annual appraisal process and/or based on ad-hoc specific skills requirements. During the course of the year the candidate is nominated to relevant training programs, either external or internal that come up. Should the numbers be large for a similar program, the company might organize a special program for the organization.

Generally companies have a variety of methods to institutionalize and measure individual training. These include on the job assignments to test new skills learned, to simple examinations.

Thus with all this what is wrong with the approach ?

The basic requirement of training is to develop a person's competence for a required job. Now here's the interesting part. Competence refers to requisite knowledge, skills and attitude.
Note attitude. While it is relatively easier to impart both knowledge and skills through a training program, it is difficult to transform the attitude of a person. This is where many training programs go wrong. If you expect the trainer to take a 100% ownership of transforming the trainees attitude, well you are just wrong! It's not going happen. Period.

So how do we overcome this issue?

Here's what has worked for me.

As a boss or a supervisor you need to take responsibility with regard to the training of your direct report. You need to tell the individual with specific examples (remember it has to be specific examples from his own behaviour /work which he can relate to) as to why you feel you are sending him for training. Now this should be done in a very constructive, sincere and candid way. You also need to tell him/her as to how bridging this gap would help him/her personally both at work life and may be in personal life as well. (What is in it for me???) .He needs to have total trust in you and what you say. Once you show him the gap, you need to explain to him as to why it is important to bridge this gap. (This is important for all but more important for soft skill gaps). Also give confidence to the person that you believe in, that he could make vast improvements after this training. (Work on the attitude of the person both towards the training and the subsequent application of the new knowledge and skills)

If it is a training which takes more than one day, make sure you keep a tab of their progress. Take genuine interest in finding out how he/she is faring in this regard. Should there be difficulties offer help in whatever the way you can.

Once training is over receive feedback as to what the participant thought about training, specific learning points etc.

But most importantly ensure you give the individual an assignment(in case he needs to apply this learning in regular work assignments, not required) to demonstrate his upgraded competence. You've got to take time to give feedback as to what you personally think about the progress he has made with specific examples again.

Now as a boss if you are responsible for larger divisions how do you make this happen. Well, you need to do this to your immediate reports and get your immediate reports to follow the same path. Some may argue as Department Heads, CEOs there is more work to be done. Or that this this something for the HR Departments to sort out. I'm afraid time taken to develop people is some of the most productive uses of your own times as been demonstrated by companies such as GE.

Some other companies do use methodologies such as bonding people when they are sent on expensive training and getting them to train others on the skills that they learn. These methods are more effective for highly specific techincal skills training one has to undergo.

So what do you think? What are the methods that have been succcessful that you follow? Share your thoughts as a comment.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Be open to learning everyday

I was doing another round of cycling this morning. Today, consciously I took a different route around the neighborhood where I explored some of the territory previously unexplored.
Not only I figured out several byroads around the neighborhood and the suburb that I could take in case of an emergency or to avoid traffic but also it gave the opportunity to see some of the scenery and development that I haven't seen before. At the end of the 1 1/2 hour ride I was enriched in terms of what I knew about the particular area!

As I reflect upon this experience it makes me realize that as humans we come across thousands of exposures and interactions everyday. Only if we were conscious about this fact, our learning opportunities will be enormous!

So next time around when you meet someone or see something just be conscious of the fact as to what I can learn from this experience.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Polarized Service Experiences

With everything going around, one should not be surprised if decision makers in companies take services for granted. There are waves after waves of various management topics that hit different countries and after sometime, corporate public (meaning working people!) tend to think it is well understood. It seems, on most instances the understanding is confined to the surface!

Service aspect of the business is one such thing that seems to be talked less these days. Two recent experiences clearly depicts how true this phenomena is and why one cannot take this element for granted! Essentially it differentiates between owning and loosing a customer. Lessons to be learned for every business.

Let's start with the bad example.....

There is this new Chinese restaurant by the beach which is considered to be a major hit among Colombo (Sri Lanka) crowds. Everything you hear about the place is fabulous. We too decided to check this place out. True to its reputation we found easy, protected parking at an area which is notoriously known for difficult parking. Security guys were very helpful.

We went there for dinner and to enter the premises you need to walk on the beach(sand) but first sight from a distance was absolutely superb. We were welcomed by a gentlemen(seemed to be the owner) who was very professional and courteous. Once the table was offered one of the waiters assisted us to choose food from the menu. It was the owner looking gentlemen who came again to take the order. He was almost down on his knees when he was taking the order. Needless to say the experience was extraordinary, right royal.

Food was really good. We thoroughly enjoyed it. Once everything was done it was bit late and we wanted to sign our cheque and leave early. I told one of the service boys to get me the bill. Five minutes on, nothing happened and I again inquired from another boy regarding the bill. He too rushed backed and did not turn up. By this time we could see the owner and the manager servicing so many other guests and we were trying to get their attention using every decent way possible. After 25 minutes since I first inquired about the bill, I stood up and walked towards where most people were with the hope of getting the attention of the owner or the manager. To my utter surprise none of them took notice of me. Finally I had to "excuse" myself a bit louder to get the attention of the manager. When I told him that I've been waiting for over 25 minutes he just rushed back and send another boy with the bill! When I completed the procedure and got up to go he just came towards us and said "sorry, the computers were not functioning".

Not too sure whether the hardworking owner even knew what had happened. Never the less the last billing incident screwed up what could have been a very good customer experience.

Now to the good example...... They call themselves the world's local bank, yes I'm talking about HSBC. I've been banking with them for well over nine years now. Problem with them is that everything is system driven and there are occasions where you feel you talk to officers who go by systems to provide service which you sometimes feel is below par. With all that, I continue to bank with them because my experience with other banks have been even worse.

For the last couple of credit card billing cycles I have only been able to settle the due amount in full only on the due date itself. But the problem is, for the bank to recognise the payment on that day you need to make the payment either physically or on-line before 3 PM on the due day. On both occasions I have been only making the payment after this cut off time. However as a long standing customer of theirs I demanded that I be not charged the interest which they levy against the total amount(which comes up to a sizable amount).

The officer who handled the issue previously suggested that he would reverse the interest charged against my card but to make the payment before the due date and time to avoid being charged again. He also said that I could call and inform the call centre in case there is a several hour delay with the payment receipt number to avoid being charged. However this time around due to unavoidable circumstances I could only pay 90% of the due money before and could only pay the balance on the due date after 3PM. Thus I have been charged total interest again.

When I brought the matter up with the call centre staff they were of the view that it is beyond their powers and that I talk to their supervisor. A detailed chat with the supervisor resulted in him reducing the amount to 75% of the original amount. After further deliberations he completely reversed the interest charged and also addressed the root cause to the problem. He changed my billing cycle to fall to 2nd of next month which suits me well which also gave me sufficient time to make the payments.

Trained people still make a world of difference!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cycling - what it can teach you about endurance

Further to my previous post on 9th February under the title Endurance – Lessons for business life – Intro( thought of keying in the following thoughts.

Not too sure how many of you out there are bicycle fans but I'm sure most of you at some point in your life has ridden one. So may be just may be you guys might be able to relate to my story here!

I did like cycling all my life although I must admit for the past 12 years or so it has been quite minimum. Almost five years ago I did buy a bike wanting to renew and revive my passion but ended loosing the bike to a group of thieves who broke in to our garage and took away not just one but two mountain bikes (the other belonging to my bil)

However a recent visit to a doctor created an opportunity to enter into cycling again. There I was, a proud owner of another mountain bike.

Ever since I got it in mid January I have been doing on average 55KM every weekend (each day I do about 26 - 32KM approximately in 2 - 2 & 1/2 hours). With couple of milk breaks that amounts to average 12KMPH.

Now, for as a person who did not exercise regularly, this was a bit strange for my family members. When I think about it, it all bottle downs to endurance.

First day I rode the bike I did almost 14KM given that I had no other choice in bringing the bike home. However, when I went on a ride the next day, I did roughly about 7-8 KM. But then I made a concious choice about the distance that I will go. I worked out a route in mind. This was an area that I wasn't too familiar with and I was interested in exploring. I did the broad round in my vehicle to check the distance. It was 27.3 KM. The next day, I took the bike and completed the journey. The whole journey took me little over 2 hours with couple of breaks in between.

So next time around just make up your mind, plug in some music and just go ahead and do it!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

You're hired

After going through 6 candidates we've finally chosen the newest addition to my team. Happy to say the person is scheduled to start work on 19th April.

The candidate chosen probably had the least work experience among the seven interviewed and 5 who went through our "Apprentice" style one day practical workout with us.

While the basis within which the person was chosen is highly situational to my team scenario I want to highlight few points in general that we were looking at.

a) Capacity to do what you have to day in day out (both technical and soft skills)
b) Ability to learn and expand capacity to take on bigger projects/roles within the team
c) Cultural fit to the team (More importantly are there any disconnects that might lead to team synergy) and this should be mutual. A day out tells you a lot more than controlled interview environment
d) What the person brings to the table to add value to the team! (Skills, style etc)
e) How comfortable is the person with the work set up and people the person will work in the future (from office set ups to lunch rooms and toilets the person will have to be comfortable!)

The process becomes much easier if you share your expectations with the prospective candidates. Before asking them to come for a 'day work out' with us as part of the third stage of the interview I shared with each one of them why we're doing it and the importance of the same. They too become comfortable with the process as it gives them an opportunity to evaluate to a greater extent the 'fit' in their own terms. While the work they might have to do might be structured in such a way to represent a typical day in the life at office, as much as possible avoid stage drama!