June 29, 2010
Learning in Turbulent TimesIn January 2009, founder and chairman of India’s Satyam Computer Services—the “largest publically traded company you’ve never heard of”—Ramalinga Raju confesses to massive accounting fraud and resigns. In a five-page letter to the board, he described the problem saying, “It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten.” In an instant, he left behind him, chaos, distrust, and plummeting moral among his more than 53,000 employees. But Riding the Tiger is not about how the Enron-like tragedy occurred, but how a leading through learning strategy calmed the chaos and helped the company recover and rebuild.
Authors and former Satyam employees Pricilla Nelson (Global Director of People Leadership) and Ed Cohen (Chief Learning Officer) share the take-away lessons learned on the road to recovery and renewal. Step one was what they eventually called the “Lights On” strategy. That is “deciding exactly what must be done to keep the business moving and doing only that which is critical to help the organization stabilize.” They describe 6-steps—beginning with hold everything and build an adaptable stop-stop-continue plan—based on the two pillars of learning and communication.
Nelson and Cohen write, “Learning is critical for stabilizing the organization, providing guidance to leaders, communicating with employees, and keeping the business open.” Communication is critical. “The leaders who lead out loud—those who maintain transparency, approachability, and integrity—are the ones with whom people want to work, in good times and bad.”
Venkatesh Roddam, Director of VenSat Tech India was the CEO at Satyam BPO (a Satyam subsidiary), reflects on the resilience at Satyam, “To be faced with a crisis the magnitude of what Satyam dealt with and then one year later to be reborn and vibrant in a new avatar speak volumes about the value of a strong leadership culture. This resilience is the result of years of painstakingly implemented leadership strategies.” The authors stress the need for developing leadership guidelines in order to leverage learning and to assist leaders with the complicated people and relationship dimensions of the business. You can use these 12 guidelines as a basis for coaching conversations:
- Understand that we will never get back to normal: While it is comfortable to want to seek the status quo, “normal” in times of a crisis is constantly changing. Leaders need to move on to seek better ways of doing things, letting these new ways become the new normal.
- Take care of one another: Listening reduces anxiety. Provide regular updates on what is happening across the organization and expand inclusivity.
- React…pause…respond: The right response will be made once information gathering, integrity, an open heart, and seeking to understand have been considered.
- Talk—even when you don’t believe there is much to say: Overcommunication is essential during turbulent times. Consistent and continuous messaging prevents rumors from spreading and demonstrates the leaders’ approachability and transparency.
- Be visible—now is not the time to play hide-and-seek: People become fearful when the leader goes into hiding. As a leader, be present, inform comfort, and provide strength for others.
- Maintain integrity and high value morals: Current circumstances should not influence or distort your definition of integrity and other core values.
- Optimize costs, with retention in mind: Make cost optimization decisions keeping employee retention in mind. This allows leaders to assess risk and make more informed decisions.
- Be a brand ambassador: The organization needs people who are brand ambassadors. As brand ambassadors, you are responsible for representing the organization both internally and externally in a positive manner. This means you must refrain from making statements that might cause further turbulence.
- Assess and rebuild trust: Rebuilding an injured organization requires making difficult decisions that not everyone will understand. For this reason, you and other leaders must continuously asses and rebuild trust.
- Remember, leaders are human, too: Though there will be difficult times during a crisis, as leader, it is important to remain composed.
- Think like a child: Try to live “in the moment,” not allowing business to consume every moment. Work/life balance can exist, even in a crisis.
- Take care of your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being: Don’t put any aspect of your well-being on hold. While change and uncertainty at work are draining, you cannot allow them to take over your life.
The authors say that 87% of businesses fail to recover from devastation such as this because they have “not correctly aligned their priorities for recovery, and more importantly re-growth. Too often the immediate focus is put on salvaging customer relationships and brand identity. The relationship with employees does not receive the same priority. Leaders do not communicate as much as needed leaving them wondering what the future holds for them and their colleagues. This dichotomy results in major turnover, far more than companies in crisis can withstand, and ultimately contribute to their failure.”
Some stories remain in my head for its symbols. I have the silhouette
remembered far greater than the image in the center. Although I know that
some of my classmates from my alumni institution Tata Institute of Social
Sciences (TISS) brought back shawls from Tilonia, in Rajasthan, I don’t
quite recall how the following pieces stumbled into the storyline retaining
its fullest hold of the symbolic meaning it has for me even today.
Once not very long ago; it so happened that a Scandinavian donor wished his
development funding for a model village in the north Indian state of
Rajasthan be scrutinized. There was to be an audit, presumably to learn of
how the funds were spent. So the Head of the audit team, Ingvar Wunderbar
arrived from Delhi on a rustic 5 hour drive from the airport. Conscientious
and dutiful, sleep did not come easy and the first night seemed like the
protracted Scandinavian hours of evening for Ingvar. At 0430 or so Indian
Standard Time, a singing male in the new settlement not far from the
original village rent the air potential energy, long before the first rays
of the sun could invigorate the forlorn cactus shrubs fencing his abode. A
turban on the head, and the loin cloth wrapped around the legs, in the
joothi footwear of a fifteen thousand suns, the lone voice agreed with the
caressed sands as they lapped the morning dew that was in harmony with the
pristine dawn. Ingvar knew that life had to be different here. Curiosity had
him step out of the visitor’s room in the Guest House. He caught a glimpse
of the villager for his orange turban color shone in the solar powered
streetlight as he kicked the more unkempt fine dust to its freshest
destinations. The mystery for Ingvar was in the large pail of water that
Bharat, the villager, was carrying in what promised to be a model village.
Drainage, sewage lines and even bio-gas from the village dairy piped to
houses for cooking purposes.
As the day’s audit schedule unfolded, luck brought Ingvar to the very
settlement from which the orange turban departed into the morning fields
with water that could hardly irrigate the fierce land. Ingvar politely
summoned the social worker to pose his mystery question. ‘Why did this
gentleman with the morning voice go to the fields with water in the
morning?’ “Oh, he wished to commence the ‘lota parade’”; giggled the perky
social work graduate who did her best to save the turban its expected honor.
A friend in the crowd who gathered around the visiting auditors, was Arun, a
sustainability architect from Delhi. Arun whispered “Ingvar, she’s not
making fun of you, but trying to defend morning constitutionals of the
locals here. You better check if toilets are getting sufficient water”.
Little did anyone realize, that Ingvar’s curiosity was not an ordinary one.
Beyond culture, Ingvar represented the best traditions of audit. So Ingvar
insisted that he examine Bharat’s toilets. However, little did the Lonely
Planet guides on India, or the niche Inside-Outside magazines published from
India prepare Ingvar for what he saw in those toilets.
Firstly the stench of manure greeted the curious senses approaching the
toilet. The next sense was visually challenging and novel beyond measure. A
young calf sat peacefully across the sanitary ware of the Indian toilet,
chewing hay and fresh grass placed specially for it. Ingvar’s disbelief had
him place his hand across his forehead with tissues soaked in sweat of the
mid-day sun. “So what is cattle doing in here?” queried the exasperated
Ingvar. Arun explained the situation in a maturity that left the delegation
of auditors stunned. “Bharat is no ordinary soul”, Arun ventured, with a
realization that he too had a sight that explained the paradoxical
constraints that Bharat had managed. Ingvar noted in the corner of his eye
that Bharat’s face was a picture of prayerful submission, that sought
understanding for his creative utilization of space and shelter. Arun
continued, “Bharat decided that one feature he would not compromise on is
the concept of his extended family. He is willing to retain his old habit of
visiting the fields for his morning constitutionals, for the sake of his
cattle. You see, in his previous settlement, cattle were more proximate to
the living quarters, than is the case with the model village design. Bharat
wished that this calf be given special shelter so that he could release it
to its mother only during scheduled feeding hours. The cow’s milk is
precious to him too. So he decided to house the calf in his own toilet, as
it is Bharat’s extended family..” Ingvar began to see the bigger picture
and saw the beauty of the uncovered situation as more than a story to tell
back home. Architectural designers and settlement planning designers least
expected to encounter such a need as they went about their blueprinting for
the model village. Cattle as extended family was only a matter of precept
and not a concept in architectural design. Again, it became clearer to
Ingvar as to why India could not innovate the model village for itself, but
how Bharat, an Indian innovated within his set of conceived resources. Only
lately did I Vijay Kumar (IVK), the Chief Technology Officer of WIPRO’s IT
business comment at an Innovation Summit in Bangalore that “India does not
innovate, but Indians do”.
Considerations of Vision, Context, Structural material, and collateral
technologies are what architects use to realize their designs. In the
Tilonia story, the Vision for modern hygienic sustainable living was strong,
but , the social context was uniquely differentiated. The structural
material, of local stone and brick; and collateral technologies used like
street lighting powered by solar cells, and piped cooking gas
notwithstanding, the user’s perspective of a tenable design is as important
to consider. An inhabitant uses the design to finally make the concept
village come alive. So the next time you notice a Green building or an
off-beat design, would you also check for how the user’s needs have been
met? When your organization is designed, does the designer’s expertise
override the user’s practical needs? What criteria do you consider when
designing your organization? What can you do to ensure it is effective? How
will you know it? Whose responsibility is it anyway, when online
collaborative technologies pervade our senses? Does Organisation Design ever
get audited? Like Bharat, do you have innovative coworkers who don’t wish to
be in the limelight and can unwittingly challenge the expert model of
There are two attitudes as Julian Goh observe.
Type 1, people who are willing to groom you from basics, teach you the whole process how to s/he becomes a popular consultant. S/he has no fears one day you will overtake him, as a result, if coming generations couldn’t are not transcending his teacher, there is no hope of coming generations, simple, it is declining. In Chinese martial art, if you follow a master who is Ten Dans, he will upgrade you to Nine Dans. In order for you to substitute him, look for example of Bruce Lee, you have to learn from various masters, and be your master.
Type 2, They stand at the point where they are now, and give you answer like ‘a good consultant has clients’.
Type 2 does not answer what you want, I guess. Even though you are good now, but you want to become even better. So, look for Type 1 master.
Kwadwo A. Poku in reply to Julian Goh shared some interesting quotes on what it means to be an expert:
“Expert: a man who makes three correct guesses consecutively.” — Dr.
Laurence J. Peter
“Never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise. View
life as a continuous learning experience.” — Denis Waitley
“If an expert says it can’t be done, get another expert.” — David
“An expert is someone who knows a lot about the past.” — Tom Hopkins
“An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgments
simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore.” —
Edward de Bono
“Expert: Someone who brings confusion to simplicity.” — Gregory Nunn
“You must continue to gain expertise, but avoid thinking like an expert.” —
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s
mind there are few.” — Shunryu Suzuki
“For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert; but for every fact
there is not necessarily an equal and opposite fact.” — Thomas Sowell
Deon Binneman added to this discussion :
But the question remains what makes someone an OD expert?
Let’s change it then – What makes someone a Master, a Sage, A Hero, a Wise one or a Guru?
Are these not all archetypes?
Anyway, if you can get hold of a brilliant book called ZEN and the Art of Making a Living – A Practical Guide to Creative Career Design by Laurence G. Boldt, then read Chapter 3 – Myth at Work; Or, Crafting the Story of your Life.
To quote – ”To view your life as nothing but the facts is to miss an opportunity for a marvellous adventure, a conscious encounter with the universal energies and dilemmas of human drama. In this encounter, we take the hero’s journey, we experience life as art, we put the soul back into our work”.
The next chapter gets even more profound….in it there is a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. ”Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle…or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A Soul generated by love…..”
I find this thought provoking. And, if you have read the Secret, something rings true here.
It is not about marketing and social media techniques. Even in social media they are now saying it is not about how many followers you have, but the quality of relationships. These techniques do help for a while.
But, people will gravitate to the sages, mentors and experts, that IS an expert to them.
Hope this adds to the conversation.
June 28, 2010
June 21, 2010
Professor Philip Zimbardo conveys how our individual perspectives of time affect our work, health and well-being. Time influences who we are as a person, how we view relationships and how we act in the world