The Most Unforgettable Character I have ever met

Purushottam Waman Khandekar…. popular as PWK to one and all whose lives he touched…is no more. With a person like PWK मृत आत्मा को शांति मिले  need not be said at all!!!! Here was a soul so much in peace with himself and so wonderfully in sync with all his surroundings, people and environment, that he would certainly be in peace and joy!! This is my eulogy to the most unforgettable character I ever met in my life.

I was selected for a job in Siemens by him, when he was the Personnel Director in Siemens. Even in that selection, there was a Khandekar touch!!! All Section Heads in Personnel were internal promotees & career Siemensites. Some of them had picked up formal HR qualifications, while in the job, doing part-time studies. PWK wanted to bring about a radical change, in the way Personnel department thought and behaved !! And his approach was to recruit high caliber, young professionals from the best schools and introduce them as catalysts or petards under the chairs of the traditionalist Section heads. That was my entry into Siemens India, along with 2 other young turks from TISS and 2 from XLRI.

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Coming from IIMCal, of course, I had a chip on my shoulder; but soon I realised, whatever I had learnt outside, had to be foregone & I must sit at the feet of a practical master (PWK was actually called “मास्टर” in Siemens, in Marathi, which meant school teacher) and get qualified in the Khandekar Practical School of Management.  And after 36 years, I proclaim proudly that am a proud graduate of that school!!!

PWK began his life as a unionist: he was an office bearer of the Bombay Dock Workers’ Union. A major strike was called when he was a junior office bearer. Suddenly the authorities swooped down and arrested the labour leaders. Since he was inconsequential and too young, he was not arrested. And abruptly PWK found himself thrust into the leadership of a major strike. Never one to baulk down at challenges, PWK played the role thrust on him with elan, & skillfully led the tough nosed dock workers to a successful reconciliation. When the senior leaders came out of jail, they knew that a new star leader was born!!!

Restless to the core, PWK soon found new pastures for his intellectual desires. He leveraged his language proficiency and his communication skills, to land a job in British Council as a Labour analyst. Seeing his potential, BC sent him to England to meet unionists there. Besides the international exposure, PWK picked up a British life partner!!! He got married and had 2 daughters there. But his true-blood Indian roots brought him back to India. And he joined Siemens as an Editor for Siemens Sansar which was Siemens India’s internal magazine.

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PWK was a good artist and loved to paint nature. His was not the casual flirtation with the canvas. His oil paintings could easily have adorned the most rich and famous walls. Had he pursued this as a career, he could have given the likes of Padekar, Souza & Gaitonde some real tough competition. No formal meeting in Siemens was complete without PWK sitting and sketching in the Board Room. Seemingly totally absorbed in his sketching, head down, his ears were tuned to the proceedings. And whenever he was ready, he would interject with his most pithy and hard hitting comments; proving beyond doubt, that the sketching was only helping him concentrate and his sharp brain was absorbing all that went on, and could incisively enter in the discussions at his will.

Siemens in India has a huge debt to PWK. While an internal magazine Editor, Siemens factory saw an eruption of a violent strike and the management was at a loss to understand how to handle this. Comes a suggestion: here is PWK who has led a strike in the past, so he would certainly know what workers want and can talk to them in a different manner. This was how PWK got inducted into HR. Being an out and out people’s man, PWK took to this assignment like a fish to water and created a new history of congenial human relations for Siemens. Much later in late 70s, when Datta Samant made a violent bid for the leadership of the internal union, PWK again handled it in his characteristic decisive style. There was widespread violence:  in the plant, at the bus pickup points and at workers’ houses. Most managers were given police protection and were afraid for their life and limbs. And here was PWK moving around without fear. There were times when there was police protecting his house entrance door at Bandra, while the people who were supposed to be the perpetrators of violence (& Police was supposed to keep out of harm’s length) were inside PWK’s house, being served tea and biscuits in PWK’s living room and chatting up with PWK himself, rather than hurting him as Police feared!!! Such was the charisma of this वामन मूर्ति !!!

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During the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in 1975, PWK openly came out in protest. He was close to SM Joshi, George Fernandes and the likes. Mrunal Gore was actually arrested while hiding in PWK’s house. PWK was also arrested and put in jail for his anti-Establishment leanings. Those were the days when neighbors feigned ignorance and refused to recognise you as there was fear of being tarnished by the same brush, & be considered anti-Emergency. And here was PWK, a senior management executive, of a German MNC, in jail for harboring “public enemies” of the State. PWK felt he had no right to put Siemens India in jeopardy, for his personal political leanings. So our man penned his resignation from Siemens and sent it to the-then MD Mr Salge. At a time when relatives and neighbors crossed the road on seeing an anti-Emergency protestor, Salge actually went to meet PWK… in the jail!!! He tore up PWK’s resignation and said his job was waiting for him when he came out of the jail!!! Siemens actually promoted PWK to a Director position on his return!! For this one act, Siemens deserves  तहे दिल से सलाम !!!!!

PWK was the one who taught me to carry a pen and a pad whenever I attended a meeting. He would say: See, every engineer carries his calculator to the meeting. HR is the only guy who puts his hands in his pocket and enters any meeting. Be a professional, he guided us. PWK was the one who encouraged us to have an opinion about everything: and express it fearlessly. Remaining silent is the worst thing you can do in a meeting, he taught. PWK told us all: always keep your resignation in your pocket. And take positions in important matters, in a manner you can pull out the resignation and walk off anytime. Never, but never compromise your conscience was his teaching. PWK encouraged everyone to keep an updated CV in his top right hand drawer of the office table. And once in a while float your CV around and attend interviews outside, he averred. This helps in 2 ways, he taught: either you get a better paying job, you can leave and be happy OR you realise you can not get a better paying job, so better be happy where you are, put your head down and contribute!!!! Either way you are happy!!! Great advice which I have myself told many others later!!! PWK once told me : we managers have a future, but a worker only has a past. Learn to respect his past and work hard to create a new future for him!!!! A gyan I have tried my level best to live up to, and benefited greatly from. It was often said PWK comes to office to play chess. Yes all lunch breaks, all evenings, all Saturdays were spent playing chess. But along with playing chess, he gave decisions, discussed hard issues, debated politics, and mentored and monitored the workings of his department and his company!!!

The office corridors of Siemens reverberated with many legends re PWK’s brilliance and solution orientation. My personal favorite was from a Finance person who complained to me one day: “You know the problem with PWK? if you go to his room, he will ask you to take out a 50 paise coin from your pocket. He will then take it in his hand. And then in the next few minutes he will convince you it is one Rupee. You go out of his room, happily holding the new Rupee in your palm. Only when you reach home and try to tell your wife about the 1 Rupee, she sees the coin and and tells you, what PWK convinced you was wrong and it is indeed just 50 paise. Only then you remember PWK had taken the 50 p coin from your pocket, to begin with!!!”

Now that the शेंडी मास्टर has reached his final destination, I wish him as many friends, and as much joy out there, as he has left admirers and fan-boys back here. I for one look forward to moving on, and being in his benign presence again, enjoying his loud laugh and recounting his आख्यायिका.

Thanks PWK for teaching us the way to live: vikas

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GD & PI : Dos and Don’ts for companies

Someone asked me to write my views on the pluses and minuses of Group Discussions(GD) and Personal Interviews(PI) since I have been an HR person and a recruiter for most of my professional career spanning 34 years in Corporate India. After I penned my thoughts on what common foibles companies and their recruiters fall into, I was told that what I had been asked was to write on the topic from a candidate’s perspective. So my labor of love and effort of penning my thoughts was outright rejected.
I re-read what I had written and felt it still has some sense and sensibilities. So rather than throwing the paper away, I am reproducing it here. I stand by what views I had expressed and look forward to feedback from you all readers, who are my conscience keepers, on whether what I am saying is useful and makes sense. So here goes!!!

Views and experiences about the GD PI process

GD is an elimination round in campus recruitment or for entry level professionals: when time is limited and the no of applicants are large and you need to come down to a quick shortlist. The method in my opinion is fast, but fraught with risk. There are too many imponderables : the topic you are given; composition of the group you find yourself in and your own “mood” on that day, in the group that you are in and the topic you have drawn. All in all, if you look at the “reliability” and the “validity” of the GD as a method of selection it will be very low. Using GDs is only a matter of convenience for the panelists.

You will always find some people who find it difficult to express themselves in an un-natural group situation like he GD. They are unnecessarily put at a disadvantage in a GD. Even if in the wrap up, the selectors give chance for some quiet people to speak, some of them can’t build on that opportunity. Obviously because they did not speak they get rejected. And this fuels their negative self estimation.

I have seen many times people just remain silent and the GD is actually hijacked by a few loud mouths. Air time is never shared equally. And the GD process by its very nature may give you a large number of “false positives” (candidates who appear strong in GD but do not display the same potential in in-depth personal interactions) and also a larger number of “false negatives” (People you may reject in GD as they did not, or could not, speak but are actually very good and capable in one on one interactions) . Since GD samples behaviors which are not normal for the candidates and, more importantly, are not even required in the organizational context, I do not trust GD results at all and would rather take decisions based on PI.

PI gives you a chance to evaluate the candidate on solid data. PI samples genuine behavior of the candidate and gives you a greater opportunity to closely probe and judge their suitability. PI allows the candidate to be in a non stressful environment (relatively, compared to GD). Meeting one on one, and using that to observe and probe behaviors, similar to be used in the actual work situation, enables better decision making.

Unfortunately, in PIs I have also seen interviewers who are in love with the sound of their own voice, and expand on their own knowledge, and want to talk 2 times more than the candidate!! This is a sheer waste of time. We must ensure the candidate talks the most and give him/her a chance to demonstrate and showcase their knowledge and skills. For this the HR manager’s role is critical to moderate the process. I have had to tell interviewers “we are not here to show to the candidate what we know. We are here to judge what the candidate knows”.
In a similar vein if the candidate says he does not know an answer or is giving wrong answers, I have seen interviewers don the mantle of the teacher and start a lecture to correct and educate the candidate. An interview is not meant for this purpose. If answer is wrong, make your notes on the candidature and carry on.

We must have a mind set that we are here to select. Many times interviewers’ mindset is to find reasons and causes to reject. If we tell the candidate upfront that we would like to select him/her and so what evidence , what examples can he/she share that support the selection decision: we will reduce the stress levels of the candidates and give him a chance to put his/her the best foot forward.
I believe it is important to spend the last few minutes in an interview to debrief the candidate. This is the minimum courtesy we can show to candidates. This debrief also serves to build your company’s brand image also. And it fulfills a genuine desire on the part of the interviewee, who is quite keen to understand how s/he has fared.

Like the candidates, the interviewers must also prepare well for the interview. Some of the interviews go awry because the interviewers has not prepared himself or the panel has not co-ordinated their act. We must define the challenges of the job we are hiring for, and then evaluate the candidate against the requirements of the role. PI must also be used to evaluate cultural fit of the incumbent to the new company. This chief purpose of the interview is also mostly forgotten/glossed over.

Whenever we have planned a panel interview the panel must jointly decide on some ground rules for the interview. That makes the process more successful. Who will begin? Who will probe? Who will take notes? Who will fill the interview assessment sheet? How will we close the interview: all such matters need to be discussed and agreed. An interview is a ritualistic dance, and we must be prepared and planned for it to succeed.

I have seen many people asking factual data questions about things which are already in the application form. This is an absolute waste of candidate’s and interviewers’ time. Are you an MBA? Which college did you study in? are types of questions which are a no no. This is mentioned in the application form itself. Similarly conjectural questions are a waste of time. But many interviews go that way. Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? What would you do if… is a sure invite to go down the dream path. Such pipe dreams help no one.

Interviews MUST be data based and specific. They must probe and get at the real diamond behind all the fluff. Interviewers must understand it is their job to allow and enable the candidate to shine and give his best impression. If we use this approach interviews will be pleasurable experiences for both candidates and interviewers.

Happy talent hunting: vikas