This blog has little bit of everything...

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Tricky Transition From Middle Management To Top Management

Question: What are the key actions that the folks in middle management need to implement to reach top management, the next level of their career?
In general, folks at middle management demostrate and focus on following key skills and competencies:
  • Critical Thinking
  • Business Orientation
  • Influencing
  • Customer Partnering
  • Engaging and developing others
  • Self-leadership

While the above skills are extremely important for the middle management role, these skills are not enough for the next level. Now let us look the six key areas/ competencies where the shift is required. While you are in middle management you may still be doing few of these things but in order to get into the exec/ top leader band you need to uplevel yourself significantly in these areas.
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Business Acumen
  • Customer Advocacy
  • Driving change and impact
  • Leading groups
  • Innovation

So while at middle management your graph for these competencies may look something like this…

The above graph is just an example, from here what you need to do is to focus on each one of these skills and uplevel yourself to take these scores from 3 to 4 or from 4 to 5.

Tools and Techniques:
  • Workshops and Seminars
  • Behavioral and Competency Building Trainings
  • Live opportunities at workplace/ Experimentation
  • Partnering with the senior management in shadow executive boards etc.

Actions/ What you exactly need to do in each of the areas:
Strategic Thinking
  • Drive long-term business advantage after assessing all relevant environmental factors
  • Update self on global trends and has a global perspective in relation to own work
  • Develop robust strategies towards achievement of the goals
  • Demonstrate effective use of scenarios to generate and evaluate alternatives
Business Acumen
  • Constantly looks for opportunities for revenue generation
  • Utilize knowledge of various operating and pricing models to improve profitability
  • Identify ways to reduce the operating costs and optimise operations
  • Work to build the brand of the organization and promote offerings amongst customers and industry bodies
Customer Advocacy
  • Constant lookout for avenues for adding value to the customer
  • Identify possible areas of conflict between customer and own organization and works towards addressing them
  • Advise customer with their best interest in mind
  • Ensure that the customer receives the best service possible and feels valued
  • Prepare business cases in line with customer's views, preferences and work to gain support for the same in own organization
Driving change and impact
  • Identifiy and adapt to changing priorities and uncertain times
  • View and utilize change as an opportunity to improve ways of working
  • Keep people motivated and engaged during times of change
  • Take ownership of the change initiatives and ensures smooth implementation
  • Serve as a role model of the change that she/he expects of others
Leading groups
  • Provide clear vision, direction and purpose to team members, ensuring that they understand and are accountable
  • Create opportunities for team members to surpass their performance benchmarks
  • Facilitate collaboration and addresses conflict effectively within the group
  • Take onus of development of team members and promotes learning
  • Empower team members to make decisions by delegating effectively and support them

I completely agree that it is not easy to get from middle management to top management. Lot of people face the same trouble where one mostly gets branded/ perceived as excellent at operations or very good at execution but not seen as exec/ top leader. Developing some of the skills mentioned above may help to change that perception over a period of time.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

What Will Have A Bigger Impact On The IT Industry: Digitization Or Donald Trump?

Here are a few buzz words and concepts trending hot in the Information technology market: IOT - Internet of things, RPA - Robotic process automation, Digitization, Mobility, Analytics, 3D Printing, Ambient User Experience etc.

If you are a computer science or IT graduate you might have got introduced to terms like natural language processing, robotics, artificial intelligence etc. in your course curriculum. Few years back these were just theoretical subjects taught in most universities, today they are becoming reality. We are not moving but actually running fast towards the age of "No human touch" and "Machine intelligence".

What does this mean? It means that our lives are going to get better and better with each passing day. We will able to get a lot more done in a relatively very less time. Productivity improvement, time and cost savings, greater and faster reach and very pleasing user experience are some of the key benefits.

Are there any side effects? Yes, ofcourse there are a few serious side effects. Let us look at some of them:
  • One innovation will eat another. Market trends will change very fast. If you make one wrong choice as an entrepreneur you may get washed out in no time.
  • Low level jobs like data entry will cease to exist because of innovative solutions offered by robotic process automation. Another example is where large stores like Walmart will have robots fill the product shelves and not humans.
  • Business processing management jobs will get impacted by platforms like PEGA 7.1.
  • Virtual & Augmented reality will bring the world closer by removing the challenges of distance. However, this will impact the jobs of middleman/ agent/ brokers.
  • Project management tasks like administration and coordination will get reduced by the use of highly efficient tools and digital dashboards.
  • Self learning programs based on artificial intelligence and next best action decision making will give tough competition to human intelligence.
Having said the above let us look at some of the options for future; especially in the Information Technology industry.

What are some of the safe/ evergreen job options for the next decade?

Business Analyst/ Domain Analyst/ Functional Analyst

Job profiles of Business Analysis, Industry Domain Analysis and Functional Analysis will remain in demand irrespective of the technological changes. In fact, their demand will continue to increase due to the fast changing business and technology landscape. So if you are a finance, banking, insurance, supply chain, manufacturing, marketing, sales or any other business domain expert then you may be safe as compared to the software engineers/ java programmers/ oracle developers etc.

Data Scientist/ Data Analyst

Social media giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter provide platforms that generate and gather huge data from its users and consumer base. Business intelligence technologies are able to provide intelligent trends and decision making information. However, there is a growing need of experts who can scientifically analyze this data and perform statistical analysis and research to extract knowledge or insights.

Support Analyst (Advanced Technologies)

As long as the IT systems exist the job of support analyst will continue to exist, however with time it will change its form and shape. Next generation analysts will be expected to perform more than just the rudimentary root cause code analysis. For example, if an application is built on PEGA 7.1 platform then the support analyst will need to understand how PEGA works, mere knowledge of Java will not help because PEGA is based on the concept of "No Coding". Another example is MongoDB developed by MongoDB Inc., it is a free and open-source NoSQL database program which is going to challenge the way traditional relational Oracle database support works. So the next generation support analyst will need to ramp up on all such advanced technologies.

Technical Architects/ Solution Architects

Demand for those who excel in technical and solution design will increase. Technical and solution architects will need to upgrade themselves to keep pace with the new IT trends like: adaptive security architecture, advanced system architecture, mesh app and service architecture.

Senior Management

With the digital revolution there is an opportunity for the companies to move towards a model where they will have leaner management teams. This may most likely have an impact at the middle management level, senior management roles will continue to exist. Idea generation, agile implementation and customer focus will continue to be the priority of senior management.


There are few jobs/ roles which will continue to be evergreen but those are really very few. Professionals in Software and IT Industry need to get ready for a big change. In the last 20 years IT industry has blossomed because of outsourcing and offshoring, very soon this will be a story of the past. This is a bigger change than what even Donald Trump's election can bring and this change is unstoppable. Business priorities and technology revolution will change the skill requirement, job type, job role and responsibilities at the ground level. More than the skill upgrade this shift will require a mindset change. Be ready to embrace it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Employee Motivation: Direct Result Of The Sum Of Interactions With His Or Her Manager

Let us look at a conversation between a manager and his employees. Inspired by true events:
Tom and Jack approached their manager and demanded that their job titles should be changed from 'Business operations analyst' and 'Tech support engineer' to 'Software Engineer'.

Sean, their manager was baffled, he asked 'Why? do you want your job titles to be changed?'

Tom replied: 'Because of multiple reasons: (A) Software engineer sounds more dignified than the other two titles (B) We have a degree in computer science and IT so the current job titles is not suitable (C) In the social circle we are looked down upon by our friends as doing some low grade work, mostly treated as doing some BPO work/ non-technical work (D) We are not getting the right marriage proposals because our title is not apt.' These are some of the key reasons.

Sean was taken aback by this response. Stunned he looked at them and said 'You were hired to do a certain kind of job, the title that you hold currently he is absolutely suitable for the role that you are playing currently. There is nothing that I can do about it. Please go back to your seat and concentrate on your job.'

Jack was offended and he protested: 'But we are not able to move ahead in our careers with these titles. We are not getting a better job in the market because the recruiters feel that we are not skilled to do IT work and our profile and job title doesn't help us at all.'

This got into Sean's nerves. He raised his tone and said 'I don't want to listen to all this, these are your personal problems don't mix them with work. There isn't anything that I can do for you.'

The above conversation is very common in IT industry where people have the luxury to move from one role to another. However, as stated above the luxury sometime brings certain challenges which are difficult to address. Let us re-look at this situation from two different perspectives of employee as well as manager.

The employee perspective

If you were in place of Tom or Jack what would you do? How would you respond? What would be your next step? Here are some suggestions:

Identify blockers in your life. For example, in the above situation the manager Sean is a blocker. Because he is continuously saying 'No'. You need to dodge a blocker like him and take an alternate route. For example, you may opt to meet the HR or go to Sean's supervisor and explain your situation. In short, you need to find a person who will say 'Yes'.

Sometimes our thoughts are the main blockers. In the above example both Tom and Jack are worried about their titles, they have stated few reasons why their job title is not good/ working for them. However, what they have failed to realize is the reality. They need to ask tough questions to themselves. Are they really doing any software development or IT engineer job? If not, on what basis should the company provide them the title? Sean is absolutely right when he says that the role that they are performing and the job title that they have are perfectly matching so from his perspective there is no change required.

So here is what Tom and Jack should do: Instead of asking for a title change Tom and Jack should focus on learning software development or IT engineering skills. They should look at getting some refresher or fast track course and then search for right opportunities where they will be recognized as Software engineers and get a platform to prove themselves. Because in their current role even if they get a title change the type of work they do will not change so without real-time experience the change in the title will in effect not add any value to their profile.

The Manager's perspective

Now, let us look at Sean. What could have he done differently when his employees approached him? Saying 'No' was probably the simplest thing but it was not the right thing to do. Instead of playing a hardcore manager, Sean could have played the role of a guide/ coach or a mentor. He could have put aside his manager hat for a while and looked at possibilities of re-skilling his employees, he could have also looked at potential opportunities within or outside his department where these employees can be placed in future(once they are re-skilled). And most importantly he could have made a genuine attempt to understand where his employees are coming from, he could have made an attempt to feel their pain and then guide them accordingly.

Conclusion: Whether you play the role of an employee or that of a manager you will always come across such scenarios. Here the question was that of a job title change, other common example may be where an employee feels that he deserves more salary and asks for a pay raise but the manager feels otherwise. In all such scenarios it is extremely important for both parties to be 'rational' and ask these right questions to themselves: 

  • Do I really deserve what I am asking for ? 
  • What steps do I need to take to really get it? 
  • Am I talking to the right person? 
  • Whose advice should I accept and whose advice should I reject? 
  • Am I just considering one perpective or have I looked at all the options?
  • Is this going to be a short term gain or a long term gain?
  • etc.
  • Does the employee really deserve it?
  • Is the employee an asset to the company?
  • Is there anything I can do beyond the scope of my project/ department?
  • Is it going to be beneficial for the employee/ team member?
  • Is it aligned to the organizational goal?
  • etc.

If both managers and employees are able to take this logical and rational approach they may be able to identify a win win scenario almost all the time. So next time you get into a similar discussion: Think before you ask(advice) and think before you give(advice).

Quote: An employee's motivation is a direct result of the sum of interactions with his or her manager.

Other good reads:

Are You A Reluctant, Overprotective OR An Effective Manager
Phase Your Career Before It Phases You Out
15 Powerful Techniques To Pay Attention In Meetings
20 Effective Work Life Balance Tips For Professionals
39 Key Critical Competencies Of Successful Business Leaders
Is The Digital Revolution Going To Take Away Your Job?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Are You A Reluctant, Overprotective OR An Effective Manager?

Are you a reluctant manager or an over protective manager? Do you provide enough space to you team members or are you always breathing on their necks?

These are some tricky questions that even senior managers need to ask themselves from time to time. Irrespective of whether you are leading a small team or managing a large group; as a manager you always need to ensure that you are effective. Being effective is not easy, however one can make it happen by asking for constructive feedback from all stakeholders and then working on the improvement areas. 

How To Enhance Your Effectiveness As A Manager?
Here are some tips that will help you become very effective as a manager:
  • Be upfront in placing opinion
    • Dont be a reluctant manager, be direct in sharing and receiving feedback from your team members. Open and transparent work culture will help you build trust. This will result in long term association and worthy partnerships with all stakeholders.
  • Develop strong business understanding 
    • Invest time and efforts to understand the business of  your company and that of its customers. Strong understanding of the domain will help you create value for your company/ clients and also help you strategize for creation of new services.
  • Share learning with peers 
    • Always believe in the mantra of inclusive growth. Sharing your experiences and learnings with your peers will create an atmosphere of companionship/ comradeship. Implementing best practices across groups can result in win-win outcomes for all groups. More collaboration and sharing best practices for overlapping areas may also result in identification of new business opportunities.
  • Help team members grow 
    • Sometimes in order to give their best outputs the team members need to come out of the shadow of their managers. Less hand-holding may help the team members grow; provide them opportunities for front facing and leading. Let them learn by making mistakes, don't be an overprotective manager. Be more open with more distribution of responsibilities.
  • Skip Level Meetings
    • Communicate deep down in your hierarchy and talk to team members at all levels; dont just restrict yourself to your direct reports. Don't be confined to your cubical. Talk to people around you. Skip level meetings may be a good way to get connected. Other options can be mentorship forums or informal meetings over lunch or coffee.
  • Fairness on all grounds
    • Giving equal/alike attention to all the team members is one of the key attribute to become an effective manager. Provide them equal opportunities and challenging them equally are very important for their growth. There is a possibility that one of your accounts may be big and may require more attention but that does not mean that you will overlook the other smaller acounts. Remember at the end of the day each business unit or account is made up of team members, each team member is a human and all humans need attention.
  • Focus on Industry trends
    • Developing understanding of changing market trends and focus on industry benchmarking is essential for your success as a manager. Senior managers need to spend time to guage what the industry is shifting towards and then accordingly build a strategy for their account/ department or company. Those who ignore this important aspect get washed out.

As a manager some of these qualities may come to you naturally and for some you may need additional training or coaching. Don't shy away from learning. Attending a training program or a workshop may actually help you get a new perspective. Don't underestimate the power of learning, it doesn't matter whether you are young or old, it doesn't matter whether you are senior or junior; if there is an opportunity to learn, just grab it, don't let it go. Continuous learning, improvement and practice will eventually lead to effectiveness.

To conclude, here is a quote:
Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out - Stephen Covey

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Phase Your Career Before It Phases You Out

My parents worked for more than 35 years, they retired from their respective jobs when they were around 60-65 years old. Both of them had government jobs and went through natural career progression. Unlike today, those days they did not have the opportunity to change career paths or domains or industries. They were happy to do a government job which ensured that they got a government pension after they retired.

But these days government jobs are quite rare. Most of our generation is employed in private sector or corporate jobs. These private jobs/ careers provide us the luxury to change domains, move from one industry to another and also provides the opportunities to take global careers. However, unlike government jobs, a private job does not provide guaranteed pension after retirement which is a big shortcoming. Not only that, private jobs necessitates that in order to stay relevant in the era of cut throat competition we reskill ourselves continously and plan our careers properly.

Talking about career planning brings us to few very basic questions: How many of us look forward in the future? Some of us may be earning a hefty salary today but are we planning our careers accurately? It is wise to ask yourself some difficult questions...

Have you ever wondered how your career will look like 15 years down the line or 30 years down the line? Would you be doing the same job? or will you be doing something different? For example, if you are a 25 years old software engineer then would you still be a software engineer after 15 years or 30 years? If not, have you ever visualized how your career will progress and conclude?

To answer some of these questions and become future proof we suggest that you design your career path in terms of career phases, that is, divide your career into 3 or 4 phases with respect to your age and experience. One example is given below:

Phase 1: Age 25 to 35 years. Experience 0 to 10 years. We can call this as a High Energy phase. This is where you are full of energy and have dreams and stars in your eyes. This is where you need to focus on learning. Learn as much as possible and break out of 9 AM to 6 PM mindset. Be flexible and develop a go-getter attitude.

Phase 2: Age 35 to 45 years. Experience 10 to 20 years. We can term this as the Prime phase. By the time you enter and pass through this phase you have gained enough meaningful experience to know what you would love to do for the rest of your life. You have built your core skill and strengths. This is where you have also created your power network of people. You have understood in which field you will grow and how exacly that growth will happen. Believe me, if you have not figured out your core strengths and built your power network then you are in some serious trouble.

Phase 3: Age 45 to 60 years. Experience 20 years plus. This is the tricky phase. There are chances that by the time you reach the tricky phase of your career you have already burnt out most of your energy(in phase 1) and you are already past your prime(in phase 2). This is the exact reason why it is termed as "tricky" phase. Imagine yourself as a 45 year old or 50 year old professional who still needs to work for another 10 or 15 years. Ask yourself: How much of fight will be left within you? Would you run out of gas? Would you have enough money in your bank account to support your life after retirement? This is a phase where you need to stay physically fit and mentally fresh. This is a phase where you need to stop living in the past and be ready for change and be open to newer and brighter ideas.

Because there is no going back from Phase 3 to Phase 2 and from Phase 2 to Phase 1, it is of no use or help if you think about your career problems when you reach Phase 2 or Phase 3. It is beneficial to uncover problems early in the game and take some concrete actions. Having the futuristic view of your career phases in front of you will help you do that depending on where you are at this stage of your career and age.

Try plotting a career phase diagram for yourself and you would know exactly where you stand and whether the road ahead is crystal clear or a bit hazy.

To conclude: If you find yourself too busy with your work and havent really got a chance to think about this stuff then it is all the more important that you take a pause. If required, give yourself a break of 2-3 days and invest time in planning your career. It is wise to act on it urgently and you should act right here, right now. Remember that failing to plan is planning to fail.

Other good reads:
The Making Of Olympic Champions
15 Powerful Techniques To Pay Attention In Meetings
20 Effective Work Life Balance Tips For Professionals
39 Key Critical Competencies Of Successful Business Leaders
Is The Digital Revolution Going To Take Away Your Job?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

If The Learner Hasn't Learned The Teacher Hasn't Taught

In India Teacher's day is celebrated on 5th September every year. It is the birthday of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan who was the first Vice President of India (1952–1962) and the second President of India from 1962 to 1967. It is a special day to appreciate and honour our teachers. Teacher's day is celebrated in over 100 countries, however, the date on which Teacher's day is celebrated varies from country to country, for example in Australia it is celebrated on the last friday in October while in United Kingdom it is celebrated on 5th October.

Teaching is an art and a noble profession. We remember and respect our teachers who have helped us learn and grow in schools and colleges; marking one day as a special day for appreciating them is a super idea.

Learning is a never ending process. We continue to learn even after we graduate. Once we land up in a job we generally focus on job oriented trainings, but even at that juncture the presence of a teacher or a mentor is crucial. Many organizations run a mentorship program which help their employees to connect with right mentors who provide timely guidance and direction to employees when needed. As an employee however the most one gets to learn is from the immediate reporting manager. As mentioned in the Spirit of Lean Mentorship: "If the learner hasn't learned, the teacher hasn't taught"In this respect, team leaders and managers carry a huge responsibility and play a very vital role in the organization.

Playing a mangerial role is tricky, concept of 'Manager as a teacher' adds more complexity to it. If you are playing this role here are some tips to make your life simple:

  • Create a learning plan for each employee in your team
  • Conduct one on one discussions with all your employees and understand their learning needs and priorities
  • Based on the discussion include learning as one of the KRA(key result area) for all your team members
  • Identify the right training courses based on the needs identified
  • Plan and nominate them to attend these trainings
  • Assess their progress by conducting periodic assessments
  • Encourage them to get industry recognized certifications
  • Award and recognize their learning achievements

Following this simple approach will help you get organized and also ensure that each employee is personally treated according to his/ her needs and priorities.

Some more bonus tips are:
  • Organize learning based contests in your team
  • Encourage employees to learn new processes or technologies even if it is not associated to your current project/ scope of work
  • Conduct knowledge sharing sessions for promoting the culture of sharing is caring

There is absolutely no doubt that managers have to be result oriented. Earlier managers used to have a 'Do it may way' dictator style, those days are now gone. Few years ago managers started to follow 'Do it your way' empowerment style and got amazing results. These days the shift is towards lean style of leadership: 'Follow me...and let's figure this out together'. Teaching and mentorship are an intergral part of this model. 

To conclude: If you are in a managerial/ leadership role it is important that you adopt this model of leadership and groom your team as a true mentor. On the other hand, if you are an employee then it is equally vital for you to find a leader/ manager who can provide you the right guidance and direction. This will help you grow by leaps and bounds.

If you read this, go and Thank Your Teacher for making what you are. Teacher's day is here. Happy Teacher's Day to all teachers who made us what we are!

Other good reads:
The Making Of Olympic Champions
15 Powerful Techniques To Pay Attention In Meetings
20 Effective Work Life Balance Tips For Professionals
39 Key Critical Competencies Of Successful Business Leaders
Is The Digital Revolution Going To Take Away Your Job?