Sunday, September 17, 2017

Slice of Work #13 - Driving a Lesson About Work

I started my career as a Management Trainee at a well-known MNC. It was at a factory manufacturing explosives for the mining industry. Our nearest government district head-quarters were some 60 miles away. I used to be sent to such places to ‘chase’ some matters in the labor department that needed follow ups. It was not a great job, and I used to be really upset that I was asked to do these ‘silly’ jobs. I could never understand why they needed someone from the finest B School. As you can see I had a heavy chip on my shoulder.

It was one such day that my manager called me and asked me to go to Giridih district to follow up on a file on labour. Although I protested, he would not hear of it and told me that a car would arrive at 7 AM the next day. It was a two-hour ride to the town. The following day I was getting ready to leave and seething at the thought of the ‘silly’ job that I was to do. I came down to the car that was to take me to town and noticed something strange.

The driver Ram Lal, was burnishing the black ‘Ambassador’ car to a fine shine. I walked up to him and asked him what he was up to. He said that he was polishing the car with wax. I told him that the dusty road would ruin the shine anyway, and that it was pointless. He said, “Sir, I love my car and I love my job. There is no work that is small and while the dust may yet settle back, if I did not polish the car it would look shabby and reflect poorly on me.” Ram Lal was no ordinary driver.

I got into the car and was about to slam the door when he rushed and gently closed the car with a click. “I did not want the door to be slammed shut,” he said. He started the car and shifted gears in a gentle way. He kept talking along the drive and about how work was divine and that he was fortunate to be working. I had reached Giridih in 90 minutes, and it was one of the best of rides despite the bad roads. I complimented him on that. He said that a car should be driven with the least bumpiness as if a child were in it.

I walked to the labour office. I met the officer with a smile on my face and confidently so as I had got all the simple jobs done with perfection. The work got done in a jiffy. We drove back and I was lost in an even more absorbing conversation with him. He taught me the value of respecting work and doing it with devotion. On Teachers Day, I thought of Ram Lal, my greatest teacher, to thank him and sincerely, so for driving the greatest lesson of work in me. And early in my career.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Slice of Work #14 - How to Ace a Job Interview

A few thoughts for Early Career Professionals

An interview is an opportunity to showcase your best, beyond your resume to land a job. It gives a chance to be ourselves in a setting that sometimes is uncomfortable. There is a palpable tension leading to a poor attempt and a couple of such ‘failures’ tend to affect us personally, a downward spiral of sorts. Despite all of this, there is a way in which we can make these interactions work to our advantage with a few things that may not be that obvious.

First things first, check out the job description or JD of the position that you are applying to. Many JDs are vague and it is best to prepare and ask questions even prior to the interview. Next, ask yourself if this is something you really like to do. Don’t force yourself on something you do not like to do. It will show at the interview, you cannot fake it. Prepare, prepare, and prepare well for the interview. Review your resume and there are things that you may want to highlight.

Common questions will be around your strengths and weakness. Write them down. Your accomplishments, some work that you are proud of, a strong story that they will remember much after you left the setting. Make sure you know the company and it helps if you can google the person who you are going to be interviewing with. Play the tape in your mind of what you wish to say. Know what you want and don’t beat around the bush.

Be on time, a tad early, if you can. Even if they are late to the interview, just ignore it. Be sure to understand the culture of the place. Don't be in your formal best in a place that has business casuals as a dress code. In both cases, shine your shoes, wear clothes that shows you off in professional light. It is better to be a tad overdressed.

A firm handshake and looking the person in the eye in a warm way helps. Interviewers have a bias for people who are likeable. Be at your positive best. And confident. Speak slowly. It is not a time to show your oratory skills and language proficiency. You need to be clear and articulate of what you are capable of and what value you can bring.

Do not bad mouth your current company or your manager who you work for. If you say something like ‘better opportunities’ and then say things around what you find interesting in the prospective company, that is a good way out. Do not fumble and take long gaps in responding. If you do not know, it is better to say so. Be measured in the way you speak. Your conviction must shine through your words.

Be honest and prepared to respond to “What questions do you have for me?” This is a great chance for you to know more about the company, the job. Be thoughtful, and this is where your preparation helps. Always thank the person for taking time out. Above all, close well. With a smile. They will remember you long after you left the room. Wish you the best!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Slice of Work #15 - What Companies Look for in People in Interviews?

There are many schools of thought of as to what is the best way to interview a candidate. People conduct several tests that get them to the final rounds. Stress interviews, case studies, the works are thrown at candidates and finally when they are on the job, one discovers that there is a gap. The candidates have their own expectations and finally it ends in a separation, and often times it is the candidate quitting the company not the firm asking the person to leave.

So, what is the magic sauce of finding the right person? Let me start by saying that there are no perfect candidates. Only ones who come close. Beyond the usual list of education, experience and a suitable fit for the role, I look for a number of behavioral traits as well. And, this starts with a good culture fit.

I look for people with good energy and drive. Some people are the extroverts and some are introverts and both have energy and drive that one has to discover in the interview process. Personally I have a bias for people with a firm hand shake. It makes me more comfortable knowing the person is confident. I don’t hold it against them if they don’t. I ask for their war stories of their of success in the past two years of something that they have done that beat all odds and made them succeed and feel on top of the world. I believe that it gets the best out of an applicant.

Through their narrative, I discover their inner drive and their sense of achievement orientation. I also look for good communication skills. Are they articulate and clear? Not just a lot of English, but simplicity in getting to the point. Something they say that gets me glued, the effectiveness. Through gentle questioning, I gauge their sense of decision making and their focus on execution, as that is most important in our world. Through their enunciation, I look for the sense of teaming and their commitment to the task on hand. I also look at the body language of the candidates and notice the way they sit and speak, to check if they are comfortable in the interview. And do they carry conviction?

I believe that interviewers need to be far more prepared than the applicants. Many times I set aside some time before I meet people as I want to be mindful of the situation. It is as important for me as for the applicant. Does not happen all the time, but I sincerely try. Years ago, when I was interviewed I recollect a boss of mine who interviewed me took great care of all of us who came to his firm. He was so courteous that we all wondered if he was just a handyman about the place. Came to know later he was the biggest boss around. It taught us all a lesson.

Of the best candidates I have selected in my career, I have found that apart from all the above, I have looked for passion. And this is a quality that has never failed me. I have always stood by my decision to hire a candidate who had this element, I have found that they shine in organizations, each time, every time. Lastly, I look for someone who apart from the above has a sense of humor and is positive. Now, as you can see, it is a lot to ask of someone to watch out for in candidates!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Slice of Life #12 - Learning on the Fly

It was one of those crazy days. I normally take a flight on Sundays to Mumbai at around 6.15 pm. For some reason I booked an earlier flight on Air India at 5 pm and forgot about it. Midway as I headed to the airport, I got a call from the airline manager telling me that I was being off loaded it way past the boarding time of 4.15. I had completely forgotten that it was an earlier flight.

I rushed to the counter where the reservation Manager of Air India told me that I had been off loaded. My throat went dry. This has never happened to me and I was feeling faint. I pleaded with the manager and he could see my anguish. It was also clear to me that it was over. The manager asked me if he could assist in getting me to another flight. I could have hugged him. It was really sweet of him.

He and I went to another carrier for a later flight. It was an expensive ticket and I gave my credit card to the attendant who insisted on cash. And those were the ‘Demon-ic’ days of the dry ATMs. After three dry ATMs, I finally managed to get cash. Ran back and gave the money to the man at the counter only to be told that the last ticket was taken. My pleas fell on deaf ears, for he was clear, first come first served. Made not even the slightest effort to help. Bless him!

The AI Manager asked me to wait and said he would try. After ten minutes, I gave up not sure if he could anything, purchased a ticket for the next day, hired a cab and headed back home. Five minutes into the drive I got a call from the Manager if I could come back. He had managed to get me a ticket for the regular 6.15 pm flight, the one I had tried earlier but was told it was running full. And he had got it at a normal price. He had not given up. He had been working silently all along for getting me a ticket.

I thanked Sumit Trivedi. That was his name. He helped someone he did not know. For over half an hour he had relentlessly worked his charm on a different carrier in securing me a ticket. I asked him what I could do for him. He said ‘Sir please fly Air India each time, every time ’. I hugged him warmly and walked away in awe of the man. He had mastered the art of Service beyond Self.

I wish I could be a Trivedi to someone. I must.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Slice of Work #12 - 'Speak up': When Most Needed...

It was one of those late night conference calls, with some top leaders of the company on it. A delicate matter to discuss. Some months ago an engineer left the shores of India for Canada on a project. He had contracted encephalitis – brain fever, potentially fatal. The doctors gave up and recommended ‘hospice’ – a euphemism for allowing to meet his Maker, outside of the hospital. Huge bills besides efforts had not helped.

The call was for all of sixty minutes. Someone started and said that the case was a hopeless one and that the lad should be put out of his misery. Another said that his wife in India insisted on his shifting to India. This would need an air ambulance and that meant a special aircraft which would, apart from huge cost, had to land every five hours, per international rules. The call went off in the direction that the exorbitant cost and the low survival chance played in the favor of a ‘hospice’ resolution. The call was almost at its end. The decision almost taken.

On the call was a shy and a junior manager who was overwhelmed with the high ranking leaders on it. How could he speak? And he had been quiet all along but his inner voice egged him on. With two minutes to spare he hesitatingly started – ‘This boy would be alive had he not left the shores of India. We have more of such medical cases in India and there is a good chance that the doctors can cure him. Besides, he served the firm the best way he could. We have a responsibility to him. Leaders, let us bring the soldier home’. He was sweating, but he had said his piece. There was a huge silence. After what seemed like an eternity the leader said – ‘Folks, I agree. We carry a vicarious responsibility and the lad has served us well. Let us send the soldier home.’

Fast forward. After all the stoppages of the air ambulance enroute, a devoted wife, and after six months of hospitalization, Alok went back to work to a thunderous applause,. The manager who spoke up that day sported a smile. He had learnt his lesson, as did many on the call.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Slice of Work #11 - 'Show up': A Priceless Lesson in Motivation

It was a cold winter morning of 26th Jan, very many years ago in Gomia, a small town in Bihar. He had woken up at 4.30 and was at the factory grounds, all excited to participate in the mini Marathon in a difficult terrain of undulating lands, finishing at the factory gates. He was the only Management Trainee ( MT) at the event. For over 20 years, there has been only one winner – Viktor Lakra, a seasoned runner, a well- built local chap. The MT was all scrawny and a kid by comparison to Lakra.

The race started with over 50 runners.The roads were rough,the climb tortuous, the downs, pleasant. Lakra was pounding the gravel in a rhythmic fashion. There was no way anyone could over-take this guy. He kept at it and make sure that no one was anywhere near him. And then came the climb, one of the steepest, the one where you just want to give up and just hobble. Not Lakra, he was lapping it up. And the trainee was exhausted and almost giving up.

Just then he heard a booming voice, a voice that used some choicest unprintable words, goading him into action. This man on a scooter at 5.30 am driving alongside, coaxing him to run and not give up. He did not care about the winter morning or the fact that the MT was not even in his department. All he wanted was for him to persist. The words helped. The MT started to run fiercely, his strides were getting better. Daljit Singh who had no business to be up that early in the morning, provided the much needed words of encouragement, and to a Management Trainee he cared for.

It was the home run, and just some 50 meters. Lakra was ahead and the MT was tiring, and Daljit was screaming. The MT put some real zing into the final kick and ran like never before, and past Lakra in the final 10 mts and into the ribbon and collapsed in a heap. All worn out and tired with the sweet sweat of success streaming down his face. Lakra patted him on his head and vanished. Daljit came up and instead of shaking the MT's hand, gave an affectionate slap. His brimming smile, mustachioed face and twinkling eyes said it all - the MT had won.

What mattered was that someone showed up. What does it take for someone to goad another in their hour of need? What motivated them to do this for another in a selfless way? 'Puttar, just make sure that you show up and cheer others and help them find their zone, and you will find yours' he one said. Motivation is more about giving than receiving. A selfless act that can be only returned by paying it forward. That race is still etched in my memory, for I was that Management Trainee. And of Daljit Singh, a man who taught me the foundation of motivation - to show up, coax and cheer.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Slice of Work #10 - 'Stand up': A Lesson in Leadership

I thought I was going to lose my job. It was early in my career and I was the Administration Officer of an MNC in the heart of then, Bihar. I was responsible for guest houses and the Transport. No Uber, Olas or tourist taxis then. We had to make do with company owned cars. The nearest towns were two hours away. And each time a company car went to either Dhanbad or Ranchi, it came back faithfully to the garage for repairs, owed much to the wonderful state of our roads.

We had all of five cars in this explosives factory and all of them were in the sick bay. An officer had requisitioned a car and I explained that no cars were available. He was upset and said that production was at stake and that I was responsible ! I was stressed out. What was I to do? I had no cars to give him. The situation was grim. As expected, the General Manager of the factory called me to his room. It was a long walk to his office. This was the second time that this had happened under my watch.

As soon as I walked in he started to pound me without giving me a chance to explain. He would not relent. I was in a daze. The room started to look large and I was weak in my knees as he went on his tirade Suddenly the door opened without a warning and my boss barged into the room and physically stood in front of me blocking me off from the GM and said – ‘While the lad is responsible, I am accountable for this failure. What can he do when all the cars are worn out? I should have budgeted for new cars. If anything, ask me, not him.’ He then turned to me and asked me to leave the room. I did not wait, I ran.

My boss returned to his room in some time. Spoke nothing other than to say that it was all taken care of. He had turned in his own personal car for the job. And patted me on my back and said that he should have given him a heads up. My anxieties fizzled in that moment, and I was teary eyed. Much later, I would realize that I had had the experience of what true leadership meant – to ‘stand up’ for your team member in the hour of need. It was easy for him to throw me under the bus, but he didn’t. I have never forgotten Capt. Arvind Nautiyal. Thank you Captain for giving me a great lesson in leadership – To Stand Up.