Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Office: Office - Client relationship

It is no secret that all relationships have an ulterior motive.  You love your siblings because they come in handy when you need to pin the blame or poach that nice T-shirt. You love your parents for the lifestyle they provide you (even though you wonder several times “Hell! Why am I putting up in this shack?”).  We all love friends for the unlimited freeloading (and the private free-loathing). We even love our enemies because they make us look cool (fake swagger and all)!

There is only one motive behind the existence of a client relationship. Money.  But so few people will admit it openly.  And like all relationships, it’s not a pact between equals. Something, even fewer people will admit, that too while enjoying free time in the loo. Kotler categorized clients into 4 types – price oriented, solution oriented, gold standard, and strategic value. In my limited working experience, I have seen some new types that can best be described taking help from the animal kingdom. 

(Image courtesy: www.dilbert.com)

1) The wild boar:  You will often receive a call that goes like this: “I have a photo that shows one of your employees rudely cut across our employee while driving on the road. Do you realize you have damaged our brand and relationship? I am escalating this matter to our Board. You better be prepared to answer.” You may have proof that the so-called employee doesn’t work for you (coincidentally neither does the so-called victim work for your client). But it doesn’t matter. You better prepare a real good answer and also practice touching your toes. You never know what will come in handy.

2) The cat: This relationship is best summarized as “beauty and the beast.” You wonder what you’ve done to bag such a client. So does the client, and what’s worse ensure he/she makes it evident to you. This variety accepts meeting invites but doesn’t show up and doesn’t apologize. While you come prepared to talk of pricing models, he/she talks of user experience and shows no interest in pricing. You want to build the relationship, he/she isn’t holding out the hand.

3) The Elephant: Asks questions. And answers them. “What is your position on the Right to Information Act? I know most companies don’t have one. I am sure you haven’t thought of one for now. So does that bother you or your clients? I mean, think of a scenario where someone does business with you basis some understanding and half way into the project the requirements change. Does that happen with you? And who initiates the change? And Before I forget, how do you manage it? As in, you follow the Six Sigma Black or the Green method?”……Still want to build a relationship?

4) The Shark: “You know, we have a right to audit your processes as part of the long term agreement. We noticed that you haven’t rounded off the decimals for all the numbers, as requested. So, we are suing you for negligence and waste of business time.” Oh! But we have a 5 year relationship. Let’s talk and fix this. “Oooh! That would be non-compliance with the process.  You shouldn’t drag relationship into this.”

Personally, I would get rid of any of these ‘clients’. Pity business leaders don’t feel that way.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Office-Office: Diversity

The whole world has turned pink and red. It’s not valentine’s day and I don’t have conjunctivitis. Did the office finally develop a soul and decide to support breast cancer? I wonder. (It’s funny how the world loves talking about breasts but no one bothers when they are in trouble).

Turns out it’s Happy Woman’s Day.  What the? Why the pink and red? Because women love these colors no, says a new joinee eager to be pro-feminist. Correction some girls do. Women would rather wear red and not bump into a colleague. Some generous managers organize for Dairy Milk bought in bulk and get the peon to distribute it to all the “ladies”. Most get cake from Iyengar bakery (now fashionably called Aishwarya Bakery, Aishwarya being Iyengar’s daughter). Others take the women out for buffet lunches at three star hotels (like men pretend to be color-blind, women have to pretend to be quality/ class/ menu/ junta/ cutlery/ toilet hygiene unconscious).

Everyone gets to hear a badly prepared speech rife with political, social and other insensitivities (my favourite – being referred to as “Maadam”). And then, it’s over.

(Image courtesy: Dilbert.com)

The boss waits for the next day to begin before he can turn down the female staff’s request to work from home due to morning sickness. Project pressures, staff shortage, professionalism all form part of the rejection response. Reporting a leak in the office toilet is met with “You have a ladies toilet no? What more do you want?.” God forbid you ask for a cab to take you back home late at night from work. It is made very clear that 
  1. The company will not be “responsible” for anything that happens to you (although they are soley responsible for empanelling the cab company to transport you).
  2. There is a waiting time of 1 hour before you can board the cab. Why? Traffic. What with your boss taking umpteen chai, samosa, cigarette and soo-soo breaks, forget calling a cab, you are better off sleeping in office. One problem though. The AC will be switched off and so will the lights. 
  3. The cab charges will not be covered fully because you live too far away as per the office policy on cab reimbursements.

While you can wear what you want (flowers in the hair, chappal with trousers, or loud makeup), you better not ask for a raise or a promotion. You aren’t the primary bread winner no? See if I pay the man more, a whole family gets benefited. If I pay you more, you will only spend it on clothes, jewelry and makeup, explained one HR manager with 20+ years of experience spearheading the diversity initiative at a large firm. 

What about alcohol, cars, shoes, and gadgets that the man will spend the bulk of his salary on, while generously handing over Sodexo coupons to the wife for grocery shopping?

Can having a female CXO or Board member change this? Less than 30% of the top 100 listed Indian firms have female representation at the top. That is a painfully small proportion of all companies in this country. Among those that do, most have inducted family members – that way business goes on and the “ladies” can continue to go clothes and jewelry shopping. 

Maybe we should rephrase the question – Can having a female senior manager change this? Only 4% of senior managers are women in this country! Looks like the rest have either given up trying to change the male workplace in exchange for changing the male dominated home or simply started out on their own – yes, most likely in clothes and jewelry and other associated trinket-y business.

So much for encouraging diversity.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Office: Office – Employee engagement

When was the last time you felt ‘engaged’ at work? Umm? Ahem…Hmmm.  (Is that even possible when its more engaging to follow social media and converge with your friends online? Well, let us momentarily put that aside). Maybe when your internship came to a close and you wanted to ensure they wouldn’t shut the door in your face when you came back seeking a full time job?

(Image courtesy - www.dilbert.com)

How do you think the HR and Management feels when they realize everyone is pretending to be engaged? Pretty worried. Because someone is going to be fired over that sooner or later. So the naïve HR professionals will attempt several things – launching an internal survey whose results are ‘inconclusive’ (meaning you aren’t sure if the employee is pretending to be disengaged or is really disengaged), creating an action plan to drive conclusions (the one who shouts the loudest during these meetings is given the honor of driving the plan), and ensuring that the action plan is implemented (meaning, next time the survey is launched we will know for sure if employees are genuinely disengaged or pretending to be disengaged).

The smart HR professionals will admit that ‘we’ indeed have a problem (never mind the fact that they hired such employees in the first place). And so, ‘we’ need to solve it.  So, why don’t you start and we follow? What help do you want?

Eager to prove a point, the naïve management leader (the one who got to this position by piling on the years doing the same job) will ask for funding and get it. One month of sitting around with it and receiving two ‘gentle reminders’ from the HR about ‘outcomes’, he gets jittery and forms an employee engagement committee with 80% men and 20% women (you will know why very soon). The men debate about roles, responsibilities, ideas and basically how to take credit. The women take down action items, delegate all the work to themselves and mentally prepare to call their mothers over to baby sit the kids for the next 2 weeks.

Over the next week, the men hurl abuses at each other over the program agenda, some walk out in protest because the employee engagement event dates were confirmed without seeking their opinion. The women look like they haven’t slapped on under eye makeup or combed their hair. Most of them are on notebook two for recording the action items. No one seems to care that the other is wearing the same shoes three days in a row.

Come D Day and what have we? A Bollywood style entertainment program and celebrity guests. Three hours of song, dance is followed by prize distribution for the best handwriting, best potluck dish, Antakshari victors, and several other activities you thought people stopped participating in when you left middle school.
The outcome - ‘happy employees’ which equals ‘engaged employees’. (After all they sat in the auditorium for 3 full hours didn’t they? If this is not engagement, what is?).  

Everyone agrees and silently hopes no one will ask ‘why are employees disengaged at work?’

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Office: Office – Creativity

One of the harsh realities of life when you work for a support function like Marketing is when you are asked to come up with “creative” solutions for in-house publicity (because we believe in crowd sourcing and we may not have money to hire agencies to do this  job).

Creative? Sure, I can be creative, you say. Didn’t I just write food reviews about that new restaurant and pass it off as ‘client testimonial’ in the company’s recent pitch deck? We earned a “wow” from the customer (That the restaurant was so happy with the publicity that they refrained from pressing charges is another matter). And how about the time I came up with the breast cancer awareness campaign? (PS: Does it matter that I was drunk and needed to vent and that only pink color highlighters were available for me to scribble on the reception walls?)

I live CREATIVE man, bring on the brief, you metaphorically yell.

Ok. How about “fresh and vibrant”?, says the boss with a wide smile that indicates he had spinach at last night’s party.

You: Fresh? Like soapy fresh or perfume fresh?

Boss: Umm. You know, fresh. Like FRESH.

You: Umm.. Ok. Vibrant like multi color? Gujarati tribal clothes type?

Boss: No. that’s bright. I want bright. Bright that is vibrant. You know like nice colors. Punchy tagline.

You: Huh? Tagline? What tagline?

Boss: I want every picture to have a tagline.

You: Picture? You mean the entire imagery we create? Like an Ad?

Boss: Yes. You nailed it! I want an Ad Bro!. That will be put up in our reception area.

Seven iterations and as many cups of black coffee later….

Boss: Umm. This is kind of not resonating the message Bro.

You: Didn’t you say fresh and vibrant?

Boss: Yes. And that is exactly what this is not. I want fresh and vibrant. This is like something done in a hurry.

Even as you want to tell him “YES, IT WAS DONE IN A HURRY, since you came up with this just this morning,” your brain tells you something else and you end up saying

You: Fresh and Vibrant. Like how?

Boss: I know you can do better. (give fake sympathetic look). Why don’t you have lunch and then try?

Seventeen iterations, two coffee machine malfunctions, and three green teas later…..

You: What are the timelines on this thing?

Boss: Leave that to me. Just do your job.

You: Yes, but we have had 17 iterations. Are we getting anywhere close to your idea?

Boss: No. This picture is not telling me anything. This is not calling out to me. Sorry. But I don’t like this.

You: But I stuck to the brief. What more do you want?

Boss:  I want fresh and vibrant! Colors! Green yellow, pink, white, red! Well, not red, I don’t like red. But you get me right?

You: But that will hide our message and the colors will take precedence.

Boss: I get what you are trying to say.. Hmm. Um… You know what? Forget about the message.

You: Huh? But why? Without a message the graphic will become plain art.

Boss: What’s bad about that? I like art. Art is fresh and vibrant.

You: You can commission an artist and use him/her to create something. I am not the one with those skills?

Boss: You are not an artist? What kind of a designer are you then?

You: I am not a designer either.

Tail piece: You copied something you saw on Google because the boss “loved it.”  He loved it so much that he insisted on signing the ‘master piece’ with his fake signature.  He also gave you a 500 rupee dinner voucher to dine at the Taj. You know the voucher will not cover event the cost of coffee. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Office: Office – Leadership Development programme

Sun, sand, the sea and two days of bliss. Well, not exactly. It’s more is like Five star hotel pool, business center, good looking chicks and food cooked by a real chef (not a cook pretending otherwise).  Of course, all of this plus your travel paid for by the company. That in a few words summarizes what leadership development programmes mean for the majority of corporate junta. No wonder everyone wants to get nominated for such a programme.

(Image Courtesy: www.dilbert.com)

So how do you get a ticket to attend this? You earn it. Or at least pretend to have earned it.

Start by having a career discussion with your manager and mention how you are an aspiring leader. Ask him/her is there is anything specific you can do from your side to build on those skills. Most managers will ask you to do one of three things, which you should ignore for obvious reasons:

a)  Observe them at work (to pick up their non-existent leadership skills? hah!);

b)   Read books on leadership (didn’t you try to do that to show off to your MBA classmates and then realized you had read only the foreword online and mistook it for the whole book?); and

c)  Take greater responsibility at work (yeah right! Ever seen a leader do any work??).

Instead you can pretend to have considered all the options by doing all of this:

a)  Send weekly mails to your boss about how you observed the fact that he doesn’t say much during presentations and wondered if that was a leadership skill? Less cheeky your tone, the better chances you have at that paid trip (programme, I mean).

b)  Raid the second hand bookshop near your house and stock up your work desk with leadership books. If you are Gen Y, then do the equivalent on your smart phone. Do up your cubicle with post-it notes having “famous leadership quotes”. (Yeah, about time you took down those Goa and McLeodganj photos from your softboard).

c)  Volunteer to “support” all projects your team is working on (but do not define how you will actually do that). Send your boss a monthly summary of how you influenced the outcomes of several team meetings (obviously refrain from getting into details like how you got the team to agree with your idea because you bought them cupcakes and coffee, or the time you fixed the projector or printed handouts for the 1:1 meeting..).

Once you have done this for a quarter, ask your boss if this is helping shape your “skills” and would a leadership development programme help you better? If your boss doesn’t choke on his saliva, then you stand a chance. Else, go and befriend that balding uncle in the learning and development team to find out if there is any way you can get nominated. Of course, you will pay for drinks at Madhuloka for a month, along with chips and “snakes” (snacks. Like you didn’t know!) and maybe drop him home after these “enlightening” sessions.

Result Day: The Boss’ bum chum has been "carefully" picked to attend the leadership development programme. He heads two divisions in the company and attended last year’s programme too, you find out.

How do you cope? Well, you may not be able to have Five Star amenities, but who says you can’t have the Madhuloka experience?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Office: Office – Interview

Tis’ the season when companies loosen their belts and spend that last bit of budget available to them. The dumber ones will focus on splurging it on booze parties, team jackets, bags and other goodies. The smarter ones will focus on getting good candidates inducted into the company (so that the cocky team members fear for their existence in the next quarter and don’t care about their appraisal or bonus).

The most important part of candidate selection is the interview. The more important part, of course, is the feeling of security (some would mistakenly assume this is “power”) that you are on the other side of the table. In my limited experience, there are several types of interviews that are prevalent in the corporate world today. For those wanting to give interviews, what you see below could be like seeing a copy of the question paper the night before the exam.

(Image Courtesy: www.dilbert.com)

a)  “Know who’s the boss” interview - If you have ever faced an interviewer who had no time for scrutinizing your outfit, your resume or anything remotely concerned with you, then you have faced this monster. The type will only have ears, eyes and a voice for talking about his/her role in the company. He/she will ration out exactly 5 minutes for you to speak and that too only ask close ended questions.  As you leave the interview you will have only one question on your mind - who was being interviewed? The only way to tackle this is to chip in at the third minute from the start and ask those questions whose answers will be meaningful to you. Try taming the monster and you will realize how wasted your appearance and attitude is.

      b) “Errr…Ummm. Hmmm” interview – While you might mistake this interviewer for a case of ‘I’m substituting for you interviewer because he got sick,’ it is far from the truth.  Ever knew a chap whose idea of communication was giving confused looks and saying nothing more than “Hmmm”? Now, imagine if he was forced to interview candidates. How would he behave? Exactly like what your candidate-phobic interviewer is behaving. Chances are you might mistake the company for being filled with duffers and ruin that suit you wore to the interview in rage. Instead, do a role reversal. Ask questions and seek answers – preferably do both yourself. If nothing, you would have completed one mock interview session to boost confidence.

      c)  The pessimistic interview – These are the times you seek the ray of sunshine through the cold AC room. This is less of an interview and more of an audition for scary movie 14. Everything that you say will be used to position the role as unsuitable for you. It’s worse if you don’t say anything. Hygiene factors in the office are the some of the commonly exaggerated claims made by the interviewer – you will have to work 14 hours a day seven days a week, our canteen has watery dal that gives loose motions, forget work-life balance, you’ll have no life, officially you will be made assistant manager, but practically your role would be that of a Group Head. What the interviewer is desperately hoping for is that you ask him/her– “Oh! Wow. How do you manage all this? You must be awesome.” Once you ask that question, you have cracked the interview (and the interviewer).

If the interviews you have experienced fall in none of these categories, then you either have a boring role or work for a boring industry. After all what’s the fun in attending serious, predictable interviews?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Office:Office – Corporate New Year Resolution

If you have overcome the holiday hangover, you will realize that a brand new year lies ahead of you. Happy New Year! So what’s your resolution for this year?

(Image courtesy - The Evil Twin)

 “Resolutions are so Generation X,” you say. Your friends and family probably know of your history with resolutions. But how do you tell your colleagues that, when your boss’ last email encouraged everyone “to introspect and set personal goals for the New Year”? (Never mind that the line was a rip off of a popular speech and came packaged as an e-Card featuring shiny golden balls lying on the snow. It’s the sentiment that matters, you know, even borrowed sentiments).  

Hmm.. how does walking 2 km everyday sound? Or eating healthy meals? Okay, Okay, you will add “alcohol-only-over-the –weekend” to that. Sounds like a good resolution to flaunt to colleagues? Wrong. What the boss wants is not a “personal” personal goal. His email actually translates to “take up a goal that can’t be included in your performance management system, yet will remain key to your performance”. Much like BB cream, push-up-bras, and the BMW bike in Dhoom 3, you need a corporate New Year resolution that will make you look good.

To help you pick one that most closely addresses your need, I have identified some common types.

a)      Resolutions the boss will like: A resolution in this category can project you as a sycophant, but who cares? It is better to be a sycophant than pretend to be one. Anything that reduces the boss’ work load is a good resolution. If you can take over the job of the house keeping person and the secretary at no extra salary, then you have nailed it. You have not only demonstrated ambition (by offering to multi-task) but also ensured that you are highly visible to the boss. If that is too ambitious, try these options that have a much lesser success rate though  –read the newspaper your boss reads and send him an email summary of select news at 6:00 am every day; ensure your boss’ car is bird-shit proof by bribing the parking lot helper to clean it every 2 hours; move your seat close to the boss’ where he can’t miss you; play the sport your boss loves and bribe your friends to lose (after all boss needs to look no further for a great player on his team).

b)      Resolutions the boss will hate, but the colleagues will like: This is a tricky area because you can’t satisfy all the people all the time. And boss will get that message sooner or later. For starters organize a secret banta (its actually “banter” with an accent) focused on your colleagues’ sentiments about your boss. Since it is secret, no one will know who wrote the nasty stuff. Your job is to collect all the banta, sugar coat it and deliver it to the boss in an office event. Between feeling overwhelmed and grateful, he/she won’t have the time to actually read what you have shared. Less interesting options include – Volunteer to become the employee engagement champion and have fortnightly booze sessions over lunch that is billed to the company or your boss (if he holds that budget). Of course, the bill should say “45 Deluxe Rajasthani Thalis”- two per employee, because it was a limited menu, you know. You can also call for ethnic day celebrations every quarter, followed by an antakshari contest that makes it mandatory for all bosses to participate. The twist in the show is that the guy who comes last is the winner – just to ensure your boss doesn’t see this as revenge or insult.

c)       Resolutions that will help you find a new boss: You really want to do this? Okay. Start with doing your job better than the best colleague. Think, speak, execute and project “excellence” in everything you do. Remember Karate Kid? The Mr. Miyagi version where he says “Karate – here, here, here” and points to his head, heart and stomach (or was it his gut?). Excellence should be your karate. Make elaborate project management lists and display them in and around your seat. Use Macro-filled documents. That way if your boss doesn’t know how to open them, you can show him/her. Set alarms for everything, including pee breaks and make sure you let others hear it ring. Subscribe to magazines and have them delivered at your seat. Same goes for management books bought on Flipkart at 67% discount. Never admit to liking Dilbert or Facebook.  At the end of the year one of two things will happen: Your boss will be happy to recommend you for a bigger role. Or you will be happy to recommend your replacement to the boss.

Still can’t find the corporate resolution for this year? Good for you, the weekend is here. Before you know, most people would have outgrown their resolutions.