bunch of millennials taking a selfie

Millennials aren’t the problem…

All my readers who do not agree with my title line, likely will start flaming me by the time they finish reading this post. But, that is alright.

HR types who aren’t able to manage a young workforce or even provide inspiration to the line managers keep saying that the millennial workforce is different, as an excuse for attrition. I have a gripe about the way HR has become in the services industry, but that reason to get flamed, I will save for later. We keep hearing different ‘negative’ attributes, though contradictory among themselves, assigned to the millennials. Some of these are:

Sense of Entitlement

We keep hearing, millennials feel very entitled, expect promotions quick, get bored quick and do not like to be tied by corporate conventions from the 20th century. Well, way back in 2001, I remember the first sentence the newly recruited network manager uttered as he walked into this open plan office. Went something like – “Where is my cabin?”. That sure sounded like entitlement to me.

Irreverence / Arrogance

Weren’t you irreverent / arrogant, when you were in your 20s? I was. Actually, I still am. What do these attributes have to do with a specific generation? In fact, the millennials are way more tuned to the way technology is moving today, they are walking lock-step with advancement and easily are able to filter away extraneous noise effortlessly. If they are more technology aware, or sharper than others, then they can choose to have a bit of a swag, I think.

Not being able to use their education

Oh, c’mon. Who provided them the education or designed the curriculum in the first place. IT / ITES services companies in India, driven by the KPI of billability, have practically destroyed engineering education by abdicating from their responsibility and pushing training into the colleges. The bellwether company was singularly responsible for starting this, and the rest of the sheep followed. Making a student usable is the employers’ responsibility, not the college’s. Now, you can’t come back and say colleges are producing unemployable youth.

Distracted

As opposed to what? Just because they don’t want to have a collar around the neck and be in the office every day? Maybe, your place of employment offers nothing to keep them mentally engaged. The employee engagement index survey thingy is rubbish, bin it and save some money. Seen enough places with high engagement scores, and high attrition.

Oh, they are so stuck to their electronic devices.

We weren’t because we didn’t have our lives proliferated with these devices, remember? Aren’t gen-x and gen-y folk glued to their smart phones as well? Seen many, including this MNC CEO friend, who goes on vacation with a laptop, a tablet, two phones and a smart watch and get completely restive without an internet connection.

…and I could go on with other examples and attributes.

There is this Simon Sinek interview (on youtube), where her passionately talks about millennials, their sense of entitlement (and why it came about), their lack of social connects etc. Blames parents, but also the millennials … and I do not agree. The millennials aren’t really very different from what we were at their age. Just that the social context is different today, and thus the millennial reaction seems to be contrary to what we have grown up with. The problem lies with us, not with the millennials.

Allow me to end with an anecdote. On a flight home from Mumbai (earlier this year), I had a millennial sitting next to me. We got chatting. Figured from what she disclosed, she was maybe 25 – 26 and was already on her fourth job. She had already worked as an assistant arranger for a fashion choreographer, had worked in a call centre, in some start up as a merchandiser and was now an interning in a school learning to act. OMG, What an irresponsible person, with no longevity at work, right? When I asked her why did she change so often, and went on to completely different areas… her answer was “I am trying to find myself”. Internally, I mocked this ‘airhead’, while pretending to be stoic. Her remark, however, stayed with me. Much later, the profundity of her statement (even if that is not what she really meant) dawned upon me. What we, ‘the know-alls’ have lost is exactly that desire to find ourselves and have trained ourselves to be a service and talentless labour force.

Something tells me, folk who keep blaming the millennials, likely have something to gain by constantly blaming them.

Now, got that flamethrower ready?

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Touch down Croatia / Hrvatska

Ever read Alistair MacLean novels, as a young adult or even later? He wrote one called ‘The Partisans’, which I read while in senior school. Never mind what that story was about, but the setting was former Yugoslavia. Exotic sounding Zagreb, Mostar, Sarajevo, Graz, Zadar etc which became infamous later during the Serbo-Croat-Bosnian conflict. Somewhere along the line a city whose name started with a Z, sure did pique some interest in me and that interest to get there, sometime in life, remained.
Just before getting my shackles removed, closing my eyes and forefinger jabbing a map of Europe pointed roughly to Croatia. What shackles, you ask. Ah, but that is a story for another day.

Dealt with the Croatian embassy for a Visa. Have never figured why such seemingly immigration risk insignificant countries need such amazing amount of paperwork to issue a tourist visa and why do they charge so much? Am I about to illegally migrate…to Croatia? Not as if there is a large bunch Indians traveling to Croatia either.

 

Meanwhile, getting tickets on miles from British Airways was as much a bitch as it always has been. Can’t fly through here, not from there, not on this day, not on that, not in economy, not this airline etc etc. Getting some workable, but inconvenient combination is akin to expecting a singularity type event to happen and a space time continuum portal, to the other dimension,​ open up. So they routed me through LHR, but couldn’t find me a miles seat to Zagreb. That is supposed to be my destination, you see. In any case, my return trip on miles and paid LHR->ZAG ends up costing more than flying economy to ZAG and back.

The travel day from finally arrived. BA seems to have fallen on bad times. Their planes lack upkeep, the service borders now on surly, the food is just plain bad. Their Twitter CS team is callous in approach as well.

If you are flying short-haul economy, then you pay for food. Their central software system crashes, and disables online check-in too.

But, still interesting things happen. There are things happening everyday which make one gleeful. Finally the app based check-in today morning, self baggage drop and tag printing, and touch less card swipe on board for a coffee. Technology, when it works, is sheer magic.

Then this beautiful innovation of filter coffee in this cup with a cloth net filter.

Why didn’t someone think of this earlier?

Visible sunrises are still a delight. Even more so in England.

And then, John Cleese is going to be back on the tube; so reports The Telegraph.

…And touch down into sunny Zagreb. After a long line at immigration and a (fleecing) taxi drive, here is the view from my upgraded room

More on Zagreb and Croatia as I travel through next some days…

Passion is over rated and useless

tim-cook-steve-jobs

Allow me to start with being a nay-sayer, in a way, to Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford. At least to how we interpret that speech. You might have watched it on YouTube. That “Stay Hungry” video. The Follow Your Passion, or Be Passionate about work speech. That isn’t “really” what Jobs said, and nor does his source material. And, I am saying being passionate about work is a waste of time or energy.

That bothers you, doesn’t it? That is what we have been taught and is often repeated to us at work. That is what HR keeps telling you, and keeps stretching passion at work to engagement with the organization and hopes for reduction in attrition. Allow me to just point out that there is plenty attrition happening in organizations showing high engagement scores. One should question – what happens to all the passion, the energy and the emotion that people seem to display? There, obviously, must be a disconnect somewhere.

You may ask, how can one possibly work without any passion? How does one achieve without passion? The thing is, passion towards your organization or leadership is very different from that towards work at hand. You have noticed, surely, that you do better when you are calm, when you do not get influenced by anxiousness or are able to be unmoved by pressure. Have you not felt, being in the zone? That would be the state of स्थितप्रज्ञता  (state of being sthitaprajna, loosely defined as ‘unperturbedness’ ).

The virtuous circle driven by self awareness

The virtuous circle driven by self awareness

In short, less passion there is, better we work. “When we let loose our feelings, we waste so much energy, shatter our nerves, disturb our minds, and accomplish very little work. The energy which ought to have gone out as work is spent as mere feeling, which counts for nothing. It is only when the mind is very calm and collected that the whole of its energy is spent in doing good work …”. You get the general idea. Being calm is however, not the same as being inactive. The idea is to focus on the work rather than expending your inner qi on just being passionate. The next question, then, is how does one redirect the energy to work while being dispassionate?

There are different ways of looking at this, using different terminology. While the nuggets are about the same, some arrange it linearly and some circular; I postulate, it is a virtuous spiral in six simple steps which deserves your attention and effort.

1. Intent

Start with the basics, figuring the purpose or the intent behind the action, effort or task at hand. What is the outcome expected, from the task? Are the task at hand and the outcome aligned to each other? This ‘intent’ is different from what your personal goal might be, and thus highlighting the first possible place of disconnect.

2. Empathy

Be aware of the environment you are operating in, the environment in which the task needs to be executed. Does the environment support the execution of the task? The other key element is the inclusion of stakeholders, and empathizing with what their expectations of the outcome might be. Should their expectations not be aligned to the outcome that you foresee, then (obviously) you have trouble looming ahead.


“…as I read of persons who become frozen in snow; all such, they say, want to go to sleep, and if you try to drag them up, they say, “Let me sleep; it is so beautiful to sleep in the snow”, and they die there in that sleep. So is our nature. That is what we are doing all our life, getting frozen from the feet upwards, and yet wanting to sleep.”


3. Planning

What do you include, what do you exclude? Don’t get driven just by passion.  Just hope, desire, passion may disconnect you from the present, and are unlikely to get you the required outcome. Planning, likely will. Slow down, weigh, evaluate to arrive at the choices. Planning involves looking at data and connecting the dots, meticulously, making the right choices and arranging them in the right temporal order.

4. Elasticity

When one plans, does one go as far as one is capable? How about looking at stretch goals, beyond what one has done in the past? We often succumb to “good” and neglect the option of “better”. Take the risk, look beyond personal limitations, accept the vulnerability, tap into your creativity and be curious.

5. Perseverance

Ensuring outcome, with something new isn’t easy. I should know. I have been an entrepreneur four times (like many of you); have succeeded and failed. But, one would never succeed if one did not persevere. It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Keep at it.

6. Letting Go

The silicon valley mantra “Fail Fast” is the first half of this desired behavior. This doesn’t mean giving up, but moving on – emotionally unencumbered by learning from the failure, and not repeating the same mistakes. Habits are difficult to let go, but we succeed when we practice enough. This is as much about flexibility, as about judgement about when to let go.

… finally

The diagram above shows a spiral, because the steps do not necessarily feed each other repetitively; the last step of letting go helps pivot into a larger realm. Hope the above provided a different view point to Job’s commencement address.

Of course, getting to this level of practicality will take effort and practice. How about giving it a dispassionate go?

References:
  1. Practical Vedanta : Swami Vivekananda : Advaita Ashram
  2. Chandogya Upanishad : Divine Life Society
  3. An Interface between VEDANTA and Management- an Empirical Analysis : Information and Library Network Centre: B .Chandra Mohan Patnaik and Ipseeta Satpathy
  4. Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech 2005 : Stanford University
  5. The Art of Accomplishment: Six Principles from Vedanta : Prasad Kaipa, Ph. D., The Mithya Institute for Learning

 

checking email at home

Fettered by email

The French folk have a longer lifespan than most others in Europe, and are less likely to die due to a cardio vascular disease. Their food, well … we know what that is like. This is the notorious “French Paradox“, which epidemiologists have puzzled over for decades. A Harvard study could not find enough evidence to prove that low-fat food would reduce the occurrence of cardio vascular diseases. So, what is this about?

Not very clear, but this might be linked to the type (not about fat content) of diet, amount of stress, amount of exercise and general lifestyle. That seems to make sense. How about the French working 35 hours a week (since the year 2000 legislation)?

How about not living life at a break neck speed? How about not having to check and having to respond to email after work hours? Did I touch a raw nerve there?

Agreed, the world is different now and the needs of the workplace are different too. The proliferation of gadgets does help one remain constantly connected, but surely is bringing in a set of expectations, and work into one’s personal life.

France has just sent out a strong recommendation to all organizations with more than 50 employees to not send email to their employees after work hours. Have the ever-expanding expectations around an employees availability has surely gotten out of hand. David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails, and the founder of Basecamp, vehemently agrees and says “Work emails are ticking in at all sorts of odd hours and plenty of businesses are dysfunctional enough to believe they have a right to have those answered, whatever the hour. That’s unhealthy, possibly even exploitative.”

It isn’t only about expectation of availability after work hours, but also during an employee’s personal time off. Many people do feel obligated to carry and use their devices to vacation. Does that really help the organization in the long-term?

The other, relatively, continuing fad across many new age companies is the open office. Surely, that does improve collaboration but it also takes away privacy and adds to distraction. There surely is a likelihood that it would reduce individual productivity as well. A 2013 study found that many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance.

Maybe the time for another round of changes in the work culture, and work environment is nigh.

CIO in technology world

CIO tending towards CEO?

Been quite a journey for the IT /Technology industry just supporting businesses to gradually, but definitely, starting to hand hold business to directions like never before. In the distant past (at least feels like that) there were the EDP (Electronic Data Processing) departments in companies created to provide support to the Finance folk, and then gradually to point of sale. Over time, companies figured the role of a CIO with the proliferation of technology across their operations. Technology based companies started having a CTO too. Traditionally and because of the support nature, IT continues, in some cases,  to be treated as a ‘cost’ and also report into the COO or the CFO. Happens in many a large multi-billion dollar strategically stagnant corporation. However, we do know (and see this every day) that the world has moved on and there is a clear and present danger for these mammoths that they will be left behind in the race and die out.

Technology today plays a more strategic function, and in many organizations it walks hand-in-glove with business. But, in many others, it leads business designing new offerings or creating new ways of doing business.  Many tech startups have opened up new business areas or have taken existing business models through a discontinuous shift by putting technology in front. Technology and business strategy aren’t really separated anymore and that is why, many of the good CIOs today talk directly to the organization’s business strategy.

The symptoms are everywhere. The WSJ, if you recall, used to have a section called the Marketplace. Sometime, early last year, they changed the name of the section of Business & Tech. The WSJ and other predict that “algorithms will increasingly guide nearly every function in the modern enterprise,” resulting in the elevation of CIOs everywhere and “valuations for Silicon Valley startups [that] march ever higher.”

The word “digital” came with no predefined boundaries and it started with smashing boundaries in the world of entertainment and content driven sectors. As it proliferated to other sectors, we saw there were no industry based rules or limitations. No holy cows, and nothing sacrosanct. Every business, now, is a technology business. Disruption caused by technology is blurring or even eliminating rigid industry boundaries very rapidly

This change is as much external as it is internal. Compartmentalization of data was created in organizations to support divisions and subdivisions in the company. New world organizations are now data driven and barrier less;  many organizations are transforming to be so. Now, data flowing through previously impregnable boundaries can cause these departmental boundaries to dissolve and in some cases even the traditional functions to disappear.

I remember reading an Economist survey a year or two ago which had correlated the strong link between a CIO’s role to the company’s success at innovation. CIOs of strong innovators (organizations) were noted to be more likely to be the principal strategist for key strategic technologies, especially consumer-facing mobile applications, as well as online learning, enterprise social networks, big data analytics and social media. Essentially, digital. Of course, that is only one part of the world of digital. You know that.Forward looking organizations are starting to transform their business culture to creativity, collaboration and innovation. Many of these service transformations are made possible because of investments which are CIO sponsored.

An industry survey run last year (by Harvey Nash) showed that the shift is quite underway, with 66% of CIO projects are those which are designed to make money (as opposed to just support) and for 34% of the CIOs surveyed, digital is now. Some 48% of the CIOs expected their role to change in the next two years. 32% of the CIOs surveyed now report directly to the CEOs, a jump of about 10% over the last year. That takes us to the topic of the next jump.

It’s no tsunami, but it is starting to happen. Mid-year, last year, former Burger King CIO Raj Rawal became CEO of Fresh Diet, a small meal-delivery company. Then, Guy Chiarello quit as CIO of JPMorgan Chase to be president of First Data, a financial services powerhouse. Companies in real estate, oil, services and healthcare have also appointed CEOs who are former CIOs.

Today, monster forces of social media, mobility and analytics technology are causing tectonic shifts in the business environment. The tech shops in smart organizations are in the forefront because IT is now the number-one tool for formulating and executing strategic advantage. A smart CIO using data a and technology smartly to create new revenue may be well-positioned to lead a company. The CEO job has never looked more attainable for a good CIO.

"IndiGo Airbus A320-232; VT-IES@SIN;02.08.2012 668ey (7917210650)" by Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland - IndiGo Airbus A320-232; VT-IES@SIN;02.08.2012/668eyUploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IndiGo_Airbus_A320-232;_VT-IES@SIN;02.08.2012_668ey_(7917210650).jpg#/media/File:IndiGo_Airbus_A320-232;_VT-IES@SIN;02.08.2012_668ey_(7917210650).jpg

When the focus is only on process…

Have you ever interacted with a company which is focused on its processes or a set of metrics which take the focus away from the customer? Here are two real-life anecdotes:

  • A startup car rental company in Bangalore proclaims that its service advisors are asked to spend 60% of their time on following the process accurately, and 40% on their customers. Doesn’t matter how large their funding corpus is, but how long do you think this type of thinking will serve them?
  • A document processing company spends its life on meeting its industry compliance based SLAs without thinking about the backlog which is getting created. Because, the backlog is not a part of the metrics being watched. How long, do you think, before the backlog comes to bite them in the a@#?

Sound familiar? The impact of looking at input metrics of input processes can be drastic. It can have an impact on safety, and in some cases you will find customers walking away. Allow me to give you an example of what might happen. The case in point is the low-cost carrier Indigo. Two separate flights and some repeated occurrences :

  • After the aircraft lands at the destination airport (COK), the cabin crew disarm (at least) the front doors before instructions from the cockpit, and much before the aircraft reaches its parking stand. Tweeting about it gets a response, and then calls from their social media group.Polite mention of DGCA gets someone from their social media group to call in People who have no idea of what is being talked about and says that all our aircraft doors are “manual” and not “automatic”. Then, of course mentioning gruffly that providing access to whoever runs safety will not be possible. That takes care of the incident, closes the ticket raised but does not solve the actual problem.
  • In another situation, there is a group of 23 people flying together (to HYD) and flying for the first time. The already somewhat intimidated the group has been scattered across the plane by Indigo’s insensitive ground traffic staff. Then, because Indigo measures itself on on-time departure, the under pressure cabin crew brow beats these passengers to settle down quick.
  • The way Indigo measures its on-time arrival is another scam. A flight which takes (say) 1hr 30 is listed as a 2hr flight thereby providing a large buffer, and then the herding of passengers helps too.
  • Cabin crew announcing that they speak in Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi and English (or whatever else)  in a plane going to Hyderabad and full of Telegu speaking people is idiotic and insensitive. This works in an international airline which focuses on its vernacular traffic, but just copying the style is idiotic in case of Indigo. Really, no one gives a damn if your crew is from Darjeeling, Bangalore or bumblef***.
  • Being an airline in India, it truly is a matter of shame if you can’t get your Hindi right in the announcements. “मैं XXX मुख्य कर्मी दल ” translates to me, XXX the lead working team, though what is meant is ‘me, the lead team member‘ which should be “मैं XXX मुख्य कर्मी दल सदस्या”. Why does this happen? Happens when you have a non-Hindi speaking person doing the translation from “Me, XXX, Lead, Working team” to Hindi and no one in the company thinks about doing a quick check.

The focus, you will notice, is on their SOP and the processes within. Quite possible, following the process minutely will create a very efficient airline and rake in money in the short-term. But, the same blind following of process will turn passengers away because of the “attitude” that their cabin crew has started showing. To a small extent, Jet Airways did get bitten by this in the past.

The blind following of process to focusing on the wrong metric one day will also case a large error and an aircraft operational safety related incident. DGCA, take note.

The focus very clearly needs to be, for processes oriented companies, to be on:

  • Output metrics and
  • the Customer

If the processes are taking the staff away from these, there is a storm coming. Seriously!

Have you experienced a company starting to be more inward focused? Write in.

Finding it difficult to get investment? 2 reasons.

Lets face it, procuring investment for your startup isn’t as easy as it seems given the hundreds of millions which seem to be getting invested by institutional investors, and millions by angels. Many startups wind up because they never manage to get to series A, though the startup idea might seem darned good. So what happens in those cases?

Investing for growthSurely there are many reasons why many startups do not receive funding in-spite of doing something interesting. In this post, I will talk about just two which are directly related to the investor.

As there are many types of bright ideas, many types of startups, there also are many types of investors. I am not referring to the basic categorization of angels, business angels, VCs, PEs etc. I am referring to what type of areas motivate this particular investor you are interested in. What do they like investing in? Do they invest in e-commerce retail, education, social, logistics, finance etc or something else? Get the picture? So, as you look to pitch to an investor, are they even interested in your area and do they even understand it?

Here is an anecdote. I founded, ran and successfully exited a niche e-commerce retail startup. During the process I did a pitch to a VC (founded by a celebrity in the startup circles) in Bangalore. It was a horrible meeting. The partner I met neither understood retail, nor did she understand the space that we were in. She just argued uselessly from an arrogant position of strength. At one point, I stopped the meeting and walked away. What I should have done to avoid the pain is done a little more research. Not just about the company, but also about this person that I was about to pitch to. So, the key statement is:

Know your potential investor

The second is how the arithmetic really works in the background. Assume, you have picked the right type of VC for your series A, in the right space too. They like your product or service. No human chemistry problem either. What might have sabotaged your cause is the returns that you are showing / proposing. So, what is happening in the background? The VCs have received funding from a collective or another much larger fund. This is the money they will disburse among startups by way of investment. The VCs in turn need to promise a minimum level of returns to their investors.

Here is how the math works.

  1. Assume the VC gets a $1000 for a fund life of 10 years. The investor asks for a 20% IRR, implying about $239 a year, and if the VC on a is what the VC needs to deliver on and generate a total of $6192 in all. That is ~6.1X.
  2. In reality the VC will not find all appropriate startups right in the beginning, nor will they want to remain invested for 10 years. Lets us consider the average number of years that the VC remains with a startup to be five years. So, the returns will actually be a $2488, which is ~2.5X. But, what the VC needs to generate is actually 6.1X. So, the funded company needs to generate the 6.1X (of 10 years) in five. So, you already have a 15.25 multiplier.
  3. To spread their risk, a VC would always invest in multiple sectors and spread their investments among a portfolio of startups. Now, market data says that about 50% of funded startups fail. This implies that they will lose $500 of the invested money and now need to recover their money from half the startups that they funded. Say they invested in 10 startups, but now they need to calculate such that they can recover the money from even five of those startups and also generate the return that the VC’s investor asked for. So the $500 now needs to generate the $2488, which is ~30.5X.
  4. And the 30.5X is just the return for money invested into the VC. The VC will want to make some money as well, and take the multiplier to well over 30.5X in reality. Of course the returns do not necessarily need to come back as cash after the five-year period. It also could be an exit, or increase in valuation.

Of course, at an early stage it really is a punt to figure whether the company invested in will generate 30 times the investment or not. Once this basic numbers and perception hurdles are cleared, then the VCs will start looking at addressable market size, scalability, profit potential, competition (and competitor track record ).

 

The second important factor thus is:

Your startup’s perceived ability to generate returns

Make sense?