Convergys contact centre. Image copyright Livemint

NASSCOM needs a revamp. Now.

NASSCOM, the trade body and guardian angel for the IT / ITES services industry in India was formed in 1988. Been three decades.While many people are writing on different fora about how the industry (in India) is on a down turn, how thousands will get laid off and sounding out the death knell, perhaps not enough is being said about the trade body which has tried to guide the industry.

For a long time, at least the last 15 years, NASSCOM in its seminars and conferences has been talking about the fact that the industry needs to re-invent itself, how more value than basic IT labour needs to be brought up front and delivered to the clients in the west. Reasonably so, because the member companies (in most cases) have turned the industry into a conglomeration of sweat shops. Some exceptions exist, but at a generic level no change has happened. It still is about fitting one person per <100 sq ft, packing six people to an apartment and clamouring for H1Bs.

The industry exploded with the Y2K crises and companies opportunistically entrenched themselves. Companies moved up the chain, or sideways and land grabbed, but what have they done differently, by looking into the future?

The Offshoring game was invented by the Indian players, but the large foreign MNCs came in late (post year 2000), walloped the Indian competitors at their own game and took away a chunk of the supplier pie and a large portion of the clients’ wallet.

Over the last seventeen years, the industry, as a whole, still remained providing bodies (in whatever glorious form), running large maintenance (app or infrastructure) shops, lower percentage of app dev, configuring ERP and rows of people processing paper or answering phone calls.

The bellwether company pushed training to the institutes that they recruited from, and helped (with others) damage the engineering curricula. So much so that BE (IT) courses got introduced to produce more coolies who didn’t want to put in effort to learn real CS and delve into deeper mathematics. Check a randomly selected syllabus from a university and you will see what I mean.

So why has NASSCOM been ineffectual in guiding the industry in the right direction? Here is one hypothesis. The captains (?) of the industry run NASSCOM, chair it and populate its executive council. Check this list. It isn’t very different from what it looked like the previous year, the year before, and the year before. Many of these folks are not technology people. Not many of these stalwarts have spent time with the clients on a production floor, bull pen, retail warehouse etc. either and do not have deep specialization in an industry domain. Good business people? Sure. But, not technology or domain specialists. No wonder their first knee jerk reaction to the current situation is firing people in India, and hiring in thousands in the US.

So, how would these people really take the industry towards true Digital, high end Analytics, true AI, automation etc.?  Being late in catching up with technology trends isn’t helpful.

Hence, my suggestion that NASSCOM needs to reform itself and get in people who understand these technologies. Folk who understand these technologies, people who understand specific business domains where most movement is expected, and folk who can help shape education for people already in the industry, or students in universities.

There you go. That puts paid to my ever getting employed by the IT / ITES services industry in India.

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?

Je(s)t Airways has a funny bone!

Some of you might have read this on one of my previous FB posts.

Jet Airways is an amazing airline.

BL21_P3_JET_787279fI recently added my wife and daughter to my Jet Airways FF household program. Yesterday, they called me for verification. Read on (with a spot of patience) to know more:

Jet rep: Sir, Good afternoon, I am calling from Jet privilege to verify your application for Family+ account.
Me: Good afternoon, sure!
JR: Sir, am I speaking to Mr Suhas Dutta?
Me:Yes, ma’am. You are.
JR: You have added your daughter, Miss Dutta to your Family+ account, and I need to verify her details.
Me: ok.
JR: Can you please tell me your daughter’s name?
Me: err, you just told me her name, and you have that on your records…
JR: No sir, this is a verification process.
Me: ok, her name is Dutta.
JR: Sir, what is her relationship to you?
Me: Pretty important
JR: No sir, I mean what is her relationship to you?
Me: Ah, got it. She is my daughter.
JR: Sir, what is her date of birth?
Me: I have already provided that.
JR: No sir, this is a verification call. Please tell me <daughter’s name=””> Dutta’s date of birth.
Me: ok, it is <blah>.
JR: Sir, please tell me the name of the person who introduced <daughter’s name> to family+

I am a slow learner, and I had not gotten the trick yet.

Me: Madam, you called me for verification and informed me that I had introduced my daughter to Family+. I don’t get this.
JP: No sir, this is a verification call, please tell me who introduced <daughter’s name=””> to Family+ for your JPaccount.
Me: I did.
JP: No sir, tell me the name.
Me: <my name>
JP: Thank you sir, I have confirmed the details and <daughter>’s account is now verified.
Me: Thank you so much, may I go now?
JP: No sir, I need to verify the introducer’s details.
Me: Yes, I introduced her, as you are aware.
JP: No sir, I need to verify the introducer’s details. Please tell me who introduced her.
Me: Ok, I did.
JP: No sir, please tell me the name.
Me: That would be <my name>, but didn’t you call me and ask me my name? Are you serious?
JP: Yes sir, I did. But, this is a verification call, no? What is your FF#, date of birth, and email address.
Me: Please look up my JP account, you will find all the details.
JP: No sir, you need to tell me.
Me: okay, they are as follows….<blah, and blah, and blah>
JP: Thank you sir, what is your phone number.

… ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit that I am but human.

Naresh Goyal - used to practically own the company (it is listed though) till he sold stake to Etihad

Naresh Goyal – used to practically own the company (it is listed though) till he sold stake to Etihad

Me: Madam, before I answer that, I have a question. Can you please tell me which number did you call to talk to me?
JP: err…umm…<looks it up, I reckon>…sir, I called <XXXXXXXXXX>
Me: Madam, can you please copy that number into your record?
JP: which number sir?
Me: The number that you just told me.
JP: Oh, okay sir. Now your verification process is complete and your account will be active in the next 48 hours. Have a good day sir.
Me: Thank you so much madam, very top of the day to you, and thanks for spreading cheer across the nation. Bye!

After this I was intent on connecting my head to the nearby wall, but Gocha ( Govindraj Kozhipurath ) was walking along with me and he quickly guided me towards a cup of coffee to avoid any damage to the stone wall.

10 Leadership principles – The Genghis Khan way.

genghisThe empire that this man founded became the largest contiguous empire in history, after his demise. His empire, which extended from China to Afghanistan to  Hungary, was about 12 million sq. miles in area. Among his other achievements was also bringing the the silk route under one cohesive political environment. Born Temujin around 1162 and about 0.5% of the world’s male population carries his DNA. There clearly was something about this man, though most of us prefer to hate him. Peeling the wraps does exhibit some qualities which might have made him the man he was.  Let us examine the 10 basic principles1 of leadership that he exhibited.

Genghis' trivariate which worked as the base of this leadership principlesThe foundation of his principles rested on the trivariate that Genghis worked with. He ran his conquests, his kingdom and life by creating a delicate balance between the constant pulls of corruption or paranoia, the probability of losing reins of power and allowing events to dictate his agenda. This maintenance of equilibrium in a way shaped him to be the leader that he evolved to be.

1. Reward Loyalty

Genghis remembered generous acts of people that he interacted with. He honoured the brave and loyal, regardless of their status.  Once convinced of a person’s loyalty, he delegated large responsibilities.

This perhaps is an easy one. A leader in the modern age (like any other time) needs to be able to reward loyalty. But, as important is locating people who will be are willing to be loyal. These people could easily be part of an inner team or be spread out across your larger team or enterprise. These are people who will pick up your burden and also make you look good.

2. Be austere

He despised luxury, and honoured simplicity. People say that he would give the shirt off his back to a Mongol in need.

There are many examples of people who espouse simplicity; The Mahatma, Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet are rather famous examples. In modern times, it is less about wealth or luxuries, but more about simplicity of living as such.

3. Exercise self  control

Of his many extraordinary qualities was the fact that he used to seldom lose his temper and also did allow others their say.

In our times, and always moderation and self control are ideals to be cherished.  Krishna, or the Mahatma would be two examples to espouse.  Calmness of the mind, obviously is helpful and many leaders get to that state either with meditation or picking up a stress buster set of regular exercises.

4. Find talent where you can, and use it

Under his reign, enemies became officers in his administration or army; herdsmen rose to be generals too. There were many non-Mongols who served under him

This is interesting. People usually gravitate towards people who are loyal (or seemingly so) to promote or elevate. But leaders do, and should pick their team members from competition, from inside their own teams and also from completely different industries. People with intelligence and talent are able to easily jump the chasm formed by difference in domains.

5. Kill enemies without compunction

He never forgot a favour, but also never forgave an insult. He was merciless, once convinced of disloyalty.

This sounds more politics related and is. No enterprise or company of some size is bereft of some manipulation, games and politics. It is only silly not to play these games once you are in the middle of them. A large part of the learning is to nullify obstacles ; that is people (inside or outside your organization) or organizations who work against your goal.

6. Oppose cruelty

Though he did order mass killings of those who opposed or insulted him, no one ever accused him of cruelty.

This perhaps would get interpreted somewhat in a different context. Arrogance while on the ascent is a negative virtue to carry.

7. Adapt, and be open to new ways of ruling

Though totally illiterate, over time he evolved and learned from many of the vanquished. An example would be getting record keeping done, and starting to put processes in his administration. This evolution happened as his kingdom grew in size.

Simply about nimbleness and agility in times of change. Whether one is able to adapt to change and modify one’s thoughts and ways of working.  Or even how ready one is to appreciate and go with new paradigms. What does not matter is in-depth knowledge of the agencies of change, right up front.

8. Know that you have divine backing

Foreign rulers just had to acknowledge and understand this “truth” and all would be well for them.

Lets modify this to have a sponsor backing. It does not matter whether one is at the helm of an organization or leading a group of just two people; it does not matter whether you are working for someone else or yourself. You need to have a sponsor. Many a times you will need to use derived authority to push your ideas and actions through.

9. Make your followers and heirs believe it too

His followers acknowledged the heavenly diktat and saw success along with the Khan.

A large part of the concept of derived authority is to ensure that teams and other people who surround you accept the sponsor as a higher authority.

10. Respect freedom of belief

He was known to listen to advice, and also to all those who acknowledged the divine backing.

This principle perhaps has more to do with

  • Respecting an individual
  • And being open to thoughts other than one’s own.

This would require the leader to have an open mind and allow others to challenge a thought.

1. The principles are picked from John Man’s book – Genghis Khan, Life Death and Resurrection. However, the interpretation is ours. You may find similar other leadership principles described in Jack Weatherford’s biography of Genghis Khan.

Are retail spaces safe?

Carlton Towers

Carlton Towers Fire (image courtesy gulfnews.com)

Many of you must have read (or watched on the telly), about the fire in Carlton Towers Bangalore. It is not really that tall a building, and houses many offices, servicing centres, some retail (regular stores and restaurants). Essentially a mixed bag like about all other such buildings and complexes. And quite like many other such buildings the regulations and norms had just been flouted. Sanctions are taken on buildings with illegal modifications and additions. Emergency exits in tenanted facilities are blocked as the corners get used as storage spaces, or are just locked away. Fire drills and trainings are few and far between. Traffic in most of the larger cities crawls, thus ensuring that emergency vehicles never manage to reach early enough.Presence of water in the hydrants is not always a fair expectation either. In addition to all that, people gather around for a free show (check the crowd on the left of the building). Now, this was primarily an office complex. A larger retail space (e.g. a mall) will become a very different ball game. With the type of footfall that most of the larger malls get, you will have thousands of people in a large mall at any time. The flouting of laws and regulations happens in these places too. Emergency routes get blocked too, and regular drills and exercises (if they happen) are suspect. Central, and the Forum Mall (both in Bangalore) had caught fire in the last two years and both in the food court areas. Central had illegal construction. Large over capitalized construction might look great, but lack of basic safety makes the entire structure shaky.