Letting Go

There was an old school-time joke we had: Question: How do Porcupines make love?

                                                                                Answer: Very, very carefully!!

Life today has proved the veracity of this joke. Complexity and uncertainty has multiplied manifold. Unless we are very, very careful we will not even know what hit us. Spines and quills all around are ready to poke us & queer our pitch, vitiate the direction we have chosen! So indeed the basic question in front of all of us is: How do I proceed? Where do I go? and How to be successful?

To Go Ahead, we must Look Back! See the road travelled. And jettison what will not help us to move ahead. Reduce the bulwark, make the yacht lean, and then press ahead, full steam. Sorry for the mixed metaphor, but I have taken inspiration from our BMMC who has put up a board just before the Bandra Flyover: To turn Right, Stay Left!!! If you don’t believe me, see when you have crossed the causeway and need to take a turn to the WE Highway. BMMC cautions: To turn Right, Stay Left. Good advice for Life itself!!! So to be successful, Let Go and Move On!

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What I have realized is, in the hurry to get ahead, and reach the destination, often we are our biggest enemy in moving forward. And this is because of our natural tendency to Hold On. Clutching at straws, or well rooted trees, both have the same effect: they arrest progress towards the goal! We do not realize that Holding On is the way we stop ourselves from moving on, getting ahead, and reaching our target. To reach our true potential we must be able to dispassionately analyze and understand, what is actually helping us move ahead, and what is toxic or excess baggage which is actually holding you back. Robert Frost’s two roads will always beckon, but we must let go of one road, to progress on the other!

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In my professional career of 34 years in Corporate India, I changed 5 jobs. If I look back on each of those changes, they epitomise the Letting Go & Moving On gyan I am selling to you now.

My first job was with HCL I was reporting to the Personnel Director and responsible for Recruitment & Training. Since in a nascent computer industry in late 1970s, personnel turnover was high, Recruitment was an year long activity. Before HCL, I had sat in an aircraft twice…once when I was sick and had to be urgently moved for an operation and second time was for the HCL final interview from IIMC campus. Suddenly, in HCL, I was flying all across India, a flight every week, for campus recruitment and walk-ins. Every new product or software launch also required the Training guy to show all-India presence. Though by entitlement & grade, I was not allowed air travel, the high profile role with regular interactions with Shiv Nadar & Arjun Malhotra, besides being the blue-eyed boy of Personnel Director helped. After 2 years of limitless travel and heady recognition and compliments, my wife gave an ultimatum: enough of Delhi, let’s go back to Mumbai. Choose : Wife or HCL!!!

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Having to Let Go and Move on, I applied  for HR role in Siemens Corporate. 5 day week, 35 hours a week, 21 holidays a year. 50% higher salary. Recruitment & Compensation role. Started dabbling in Training, against the wishes of the Training manager, still enjoying the blue-eyed boy status of the Personnel Director, of Siemens now.  Enjoyed Siemens parties and get togethers, hardly any work pressure. The bug hit me again. Must let go! Must be challenged! Must stretch!! Must learn and grow experience wise. Asked for a transfer to the Industrial Relations role in the factory which had 4500 employees of the 7000 in Siemens India. Siemens had very turbulent and violent IR history. Everyone advised me against the move. To add to it, no one wanted me in Kalwa Factory. Was seen as a “Head Office plant” not to be trusted. Was stretched and pilloried. Rough shod and tested. Baptism by fire! But I grew. I learnt! Developed my own niche and acceptance!! Became the perfect double agent: accepted by both factory and Head Office as “their” man. After 5 years, wanted to go back to Corporate. But neither Factory Management nor the Union were ready to release me. Had no choice but to fly out of the golden cage. Let go my hard earned respect and position in the hearts of managers and workmen in Kalwa and moved to another Company. Atul Products, Valsad, Gujrat.

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6 years thoroughly enjoyed Atul & company township living. But after 4/5 years I realized I was not learning anything new. Challenges were past. Enjoyed great trust of the management, as well as the external Union leadership. But felt stifled because of repetitive tasks and experiences. Time to Let Go and Move On. Fortunately Siemens offered to take me back as a Head of Human Resource Development. Came back to Mumbai, but felt odd being the Boss of people whom I had reported to earlier. Siemens itself had significantly changed in the 6 years I was away. Took me a few months to realize this was not the company I loved in the past. Again a Letting Go, again Moving On to Johnson & Johnson India as Shared Services HR Head.

J&J after so many years in Chemicals and Engineering industry, was truly a breath of fresh air. Very professional and fast paced work culture. Lots of operational freedom. Multiple reporting, 3 Bosses in India (one per SBU) and the Functional Boss in the Region. The challenge was invigorating; culminating in national recognition at the hands of President APJ Abdul Kalam for Innovative HR Practices that drive Business Results.

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With lots of achievements and recognition under the belt, got a chance to join Global HR Transformation Project Team as an AsPac Director. Letting Go of the comfort of JnJ India where I was accepted. Moving on to make my name in the Global Team. Suddenly the person who had sat in a flight twice till the age of 22 was spending 20+ days abroad living off a suitcase and airport lounges, as the responsibility involved 14 countries of AsPac.

With such a hectic schedule, it was natural I missed many family events. My parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary, My Father’s and Mother’s 60th Birthday celebrations, etc etc. One day my daughter Rashmi went to Vinita and asked, “Do you have Baba’s photograph? I have forgotten how he looks”. When Vinita told me this I decided time has come for me to Let Go & Move On again. And I took a simple desk job in General Motors India. Spent last 3 years of my parents’ life near and with them, serving and making up for staying away throughout my academic and professional life.

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The last Letting Go was when I retired from GM in 2014 and Moved On to set up Basil HR Advisory with 2 friends. It has been a great and memorable journey and now Letting Go and Moving on is on lower stakes as it involves clients and assignments. With consultancy projects, the roots do not grow that deep as the time commitment and the emotional connect is not at the same level as in the jobs earlier. One knows, that you are a midwife or a nurse, and not the real mother, so the contract is itself defined with Letting Go and Moving On.

Tony Robbins the best selling author of Unleash the Power Within & Date with Destiny puts it very beautifully: ” Will you live inside your story or Let Go and Move On?” Very important question to keep asking yourself as you live and grow? The attraction “living inside your story” are legion. Comfort & security. No new questions or challenges. The ship is safest in the harbour. But it was not built to remain there. Rough seas make skilled mariners. Move On and face the rough seas.

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Letting go is a process. You cannot do it overnight, especially if you have spent your life holding on to things you know and love – even if, deep down, you know they are sub-optimising your full potential. Focusing on moving forward and creating a new story for yourself will help you deal with the inevitable pain of conquering new territories. It will also help you gain confidence, develop empowering beliefs to live by and Move On with elan. The power of Letting Go helps you to Move On in your life. If you can not get out of the story you’ve constructed for yourself, then you cannot move on to bigger and brighter things.

So Don’t look back; the Grass is Greener on the other side: vikas

end DC

Redesigning Leaders by Reinventing HR

On 10th May, I was invited by my friend Shyam Iyer on a webinar to discuss the above topic. I had made notes for my talk and am reproducing my notes on the topic in 2 parts. Here is the Part 1.

Poster-Conversation

 

At the outset, I must compliment Shyam Iyer & 60BitsConsulting for choosing a very relevant & important topic for today’s deliberations. We are in the throes of a crisis and hence the importance of leadership, to drive us out of the woods!! As the actions will have to be implemented by people, hence the importance of HR, as a function, is doubled at the present moment.

I have structured my talk in 4 buckets:

  1. Context: and here I will not speak about COVID19 & the impact on the economy, etc as there is enough discussion already on these. Rather, I will focus on trends and implications we must understand, to be able to overcome the present crisis.
  2. Journey of HR: Having worked in Corporate India, for 34 years, and now 5 years in Consulting, I have seen a fair bit of change in the way the HR function operates. We should understand this base-line, to learn how HR needs to be ‘reinvented’.
  3. Leadership: The ‘What’ & ‘How’ of Leadership in the present context, especially given that we are looking up to our leaders at present, to lead us out of the crisis.
  4. HR’s new role: What are the areas HR has to focus on, to support the Leaders & the organisation at the present juncture.

So let us dive into the Context & Journey of HR.  Leadership & HR’s New role will be Part 2 of this article.

Context: The last blog I wrote was titled A Crisis too Precious to Waste.  I wrote that when the First lockdown was announced & I have listed many advantages we can derive, from the present crisis. As an incurable optimist, while mostly people see this with gloom, I believe there are many advantages and benefits. In the words of Charles Dickens (The Tale of Two Cities), ” It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…..in short the period was so far like the present period”  Don’t those words fit beautifully to today’s times? We are facing a common challenge for everyone on the planet. This crisis is larger than the Spanish Flu, the London Plague, the Swine Flu, or any other pandemic mankind has ever faced. It is indeed larger in scope & impact than the 2 World Wars we have been through. In the WW, some countries were thankfully left unaffected. But the present Pandemic has affected and involved entire mankind.

One major effect of this will be that !! We cannot fall into the ‘vacation syndrome’ trap…we go on vacation, we go back and think all will be the same. This won’t happen now. We can never go back to doing business, the way we used to do in the past. BAU is DEAD! Both Personal and Professional lives will never be the same. A New Normal will emerge. In the Chinese language, the word for crisis is written with 2 characters: WEI and JEI. Wei Jei is Crisis, but WEI is Danger and JEI, by itself, is Opportunity. So the crisis brings together, both Danger but also many Opportunities.

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As you look at the impact & implications of the global pandemic on organisations and people around us, on a 5 point scale, how would you rate our state of preparedness and understanding of what needs to be done?

Let us accept, that most of us were unprepared. I heard Mr Patu Keswani the other day. He openly accepts that Lemon Tree had BCPs…of 3 different scenarios. What if 20% business is affected; what if 30% and what if 40% business stalls? But the 3 scenarios did not help. What emerged was a totally different scenario, for which they were not prepared; the actual reality overtook all. BCPs is like driving by looking at only the rear view mirror; the actual reality will still surprise you. But  “Don’t let the Phantom of the Opera scare you. Remember, collectively mankind wins”. This is beautifully illustrated by my friend Adil Malia.

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Lockdown has brought in several restrictions. But, at the same time, there are opportunities galore. At the age of 65, I am attending webinars & learning on different subjects. I am excited with ideas of virtual lunches and tea breaks. Much is locked down, but many new things have emerged, like this platform we are interacting on today. One of my clients, CtrlM which is into print management, has launched a thought provoking campaign on #InOurControl. I invite you to see their campaign on the social media platforms like LinkedIn. Faced with problems, we are quickly coming up with new approaches, learning new skills & new solutions are emerging.

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Marcel Proust had noted, “Real Voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.” A change of perspective is necessary. We talk about the VUCA world. First introduced by the US Army War College in 1987, this term is liberally used in management/organisational context, thanks to Warren Bennis. Indeed today we live in a VUCA world characterised by Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. So we don’t know what to do. We first need to change the way we see the world we are creating. Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future has given VUCA a new twist. He redefines VUCA as V Vision; U Understanding; C Clarity and A Agility. What a positive frame of reference, for all of us to look ahead. All of this is going to be done by people, so the need and importance of HR.

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Journey of HR: Let us look at how the HR function has been evolving. Looking to my grey hair, you will know I have witnessed many changes in the way HR functions. I have worked for 40 years in the field of HR., seeing a lot of changes. When we began our careers in late 70s, we were called ‘Bharti Officers’ because Recruitment was primarily what we did. Time Keeping, Attendance Records, Leave Records, Salaries and Wages were related tasks. It was so bad, that many a times the TK or Admin department, as it was called then, was physically situated at the gate of the factory, along with the Security Office! From there we have indeed come a long way. From Admin to Personnel to Human Resources, to now being called the People Function. Remember Human is the only Resource which does not depreciate. Unlike other factors of Management, Human Resource has the potential to always appreciate, if handled properly. From being treated as problem solvers, sitting separately to whom issues would get referred, HR has taken first a baby seat at the strategy table & now emerged as a partner, playing an active role in the running of the business. Industrial Relations have become an anachronism with the waning union militancy and more educated workforce. Some colleagues and friends, who were masters of the IR game did not see the writing on the wall changing, & got lost when the skill requirements changed for HR managers.

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Where would you rate the HR function as it operates today? Service Provider OR Support Partner OR Strategic Partner OR Board Seat?

We have indeed moved up as a function. But still much remains to be done. COVID is a huge opportunity for HR to take a pivotal role. People and Talent are now centre stage for all organisations. Recovery plans will be executed by this important resource: people! Business challenges require people to stretch and deliver: this is a golden chance for HR, to move into a more active role. We have a choice. Do we become an Albatross around the Leadership’s neck, a weight they carry & look to ditch? OR do we become like the Phoenix, burn ourselves on the embers ranging at this crisis time, and the rise from the ashes in a new avatar & take wings? Albatross? OR Phoenix? What will it be?

 

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Next time we will look deeply at Leadership and the new role requirements of HR to redesign and reinvent.

To be continued……..

Mentoring: A win-win relationship

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Historically, the word Mentor originates from Greece. Ulysses had little time to groom & develop his son Telemachus. Busy with his kingly duties, and waging war on neighbours for his conquests, Ulysses asked his friend Mentor to coach, counsel and guide Telemachus during his growing years. Today’s process of Mentoring was once a proper noun and the name of the first recorded practitioner. Plutarch caught the essence,  “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” Telemachus was a king in the making. So Mentor was charged with making Telemachus an independent thinker and doer, albeit guided and supported by the wisdom of the experienced warrior, Mentor.

Today also the Mentor is supposed to provoke and encourage, guide and support, empower and enable as the Mentee charts his/her own course. In the end, if the Mentee/Protege does not become capable and independent, the Mentoring relationship has failed!  Benjamin Disraeli guides us thus, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.” So true…it is about teaching a man to fish so that he becomes independent and self sufficient. Be a signpost to show the right path, but let the protege walk on his own. A lot of people, yours truly included, have gone further than they thought they could, because someone else thought they could!!

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In that respect my father was the greatest mentor we siblings ever had. Even when we were unsure of ourselves, he would always sound the bugle of confidence. Around him, “I can’t do it” was unacceptable. His approach was…try it out. Till you attempt it, never say you cannot do it. And if you fail in your attempt, learn from the failure. Then try again. Success will always be yours. When I look back on my school and college education, on the diverse companies I worked in, & the jobs I handled, I indeed had to struggle often to keep my nose out of the water. But Baba? he was always sure I would emerge successful. And his confidence was so infectious that a pure play Humanities student made it to IIM Calcutta and had a very successful career whose zenith was recognition at the hands of Abdul Kalam for innovative HR practices; and successfully shouldering an Asia Pacific responsibility for Johnson & Johnson.

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At IIM Calcutta, an Arts students having to understand  and master the quantitative methods and math based teaching, I was at the lowest possible ebb:  looking at all the IITians and smart people around me. But my Provost Dr Zahid Gangjee enabled me to see hope within myself. His deft mentoring, restored my aspirations and defined for me,  a new trajectory.  At the very start of my career, my experience in a highly entrepreneurial HCL, working closely with Prof. George Koreth  was another high. “I am not a teacher. I am an awakener” thundered George who single handedly mentored the 7 DCM Data Products break-away engineers to form HCL, and make it grow into the main catalyst for the fledgling data processing industry in the 70s/80s. Under George’s tutelage, HCL HR was the brain to pick, the sounding board to bounce your ideas, question your strategies and iron out the glitches. We did it well and can take some credit for HCL becoming the power-horse of the IT boom in India. Mentoring Works!!! and how!!

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PW Khandekar, Shrinivas Pandit, my most favorite Arun Bhende (all in Siemens); Siddharth Lalbhai, Dr Venkateshwarlu,  CD Patel & Sanat Mehta (in Atul) ….looking back I wonder what I did to deserve so many brilliant minds helping and supporting me,  as I was finding my way. Naren Ambwani, Pradip Shroff, Dr Ajit Dangi, Rajesh Dalal (in J&J) all contributed significantly to making me what I became. All these mentors truly epitomize what Mary Angelou had written, “In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care. You must care. You don’t have to know how many square miles are in Idaho, you don’t need to know what is the chemical makeup of chemistry, or of blood or water. Know what you know and care about the person, care about what you know and care about the person you’re sharing with.” Their caring was the placenta within which this embryo survived and flowered.

Somewhere in the late 90s in Atul, & Siemens, & JnJ, and later General Motors, I suddenly awoke to the design of the universe. I was being given all this, so that I could give back in return, in full measure. Time came when suddenly I found the tables turning! Even as I was learning & growing, I found Mentoring being thrust on me. Suddenly I saw people expecting guidance and support from me. Now, I had to be the brain that others could pick, the ear they could talk to, a shoulder they could lean on ….and the most difficult thing….expected me to nudge them in the right direction. “Holy Smokes!!” I exclaimed, ” I am stupid guy! Don’t rely on me. I am a fool. I am still learning. I cannot claim any expertise. You are making a mistake”

Still the noise outside the door did not subside, the crowd did not move away. Slowly I understood this is the way of the universe!  Life comes a full circle. And I cannot step away from the treadmill. My task in life now is to call out as I see it, and help others make their decisions, help them stand and be counted, help them become independent, and as a good Mentor….push them in the right direction.  Success is when you have reached your goal, but Real Success is how many others you have helped along the way.

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It is unfortunate that in Corporate India today, we have so few companies which have successful Mentoring programmes as a part of their Talent Management suite. Many understand the power of Mentoring and how it can benefit upcoming talent. Many have even started Mentoring programmes with much fanfare and aplomb. But the lack of clarity on the mechanics of Mentoring, and the inability to set the right expectations for both the Mentors and the Mentees/Proteges, have left many dead bodies, and programs,  along the path!!

Of course the times have changed and so have the talent. Today’s new gen millennials who account for nearly 50% of the employees, do they still view mentors as the way we viewed them? Probably not. Our generation viewed mentoring as support to advance careers, while today’s talent need mentors to help them meet urgent learning needs or new skills. Moreover, with virtual learning the new gen doesn’t find face to face communication to be mandatory, in contrast to the good old mentor mentee relationship. Finally, earlier employees had one mentor. But now employees look for diverse connections & wider learning avenues. So, will one mentor be able to provide it all??? These are challenges for the corporates, but my request to Talent Management gurus….do not throw the baby with the bath water. Mentoring is a win win relationship.

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I have lived my life to be a learner and a mentor. I know I have to be mentored -constantly!! Everything in the world has been passed down. Every piece of knowledge is something that has been shared by someone else. If you understand it as I do, mentoring becomes your true legacy. It is the greatest inheritance you can give to others. As John Wooden says,” It is why you get up every day-to teach and be taught.”

To end, I will say our karmabhoomi is Here & Now. We must make progress today and develop talent for our requirements today! I am inspired on this by  Omar Khayyam,               ” Men talk of heaven, – there is no heaven but here;
Men talk of hell, – there is no hell but here;
Men of hereafters talk and future lives, –
O love, there is no other life – but here.” 

Live to Learn & Learn to Live; Mentor and Be Mentored: vikas

Albert-Schweitzer

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