Should we be tailor-making stuff?

Customer Service Support Assistance Service Help Guide Concept

It has been nearly a century since the era of industrial revolution popularized mass production, assembly line manufacturing and standardisation. The world saw a socio-economic upheaval where many jobs of craftsmanship vanished, machines took over manufacturing processes, and standards were developed for tools, machines, products, processes and quality. Economies of scale brought down the time to manufacture, cycle time to bring an idea into fruition; defects in the final product reduced; accidents and hazards could be prevented. Also, the cost of manufacturing came down. As the world economy has improved, there are discerning customers who have unique needs and high involvement with the requirements. We tailor-make the offerings – a product or a service for that discerning customer!

Numerous opportunities to Tailor-make:

As a result of standardisation, we have a little to differentiate between products and their features, whether it is a cola, a laptop, an ice-cream, health insurance, credit card or a cab hailing app.  So, marketing techniques are coming of age to identify a target set of customers, build a positive draw among them towards the offering and help the brand position itself in a manner appealing to the target audience. Often the unique value proposition is not in terms of product features but in the way the company delivers the offering, engages with the customer and builds an ecosystem to accentuate the impact of the purchase.

Henry Ford spoke about Model T, “You can have any colour you like, so long as it’s black”. That was assembly line manufacturing and the world has lapped it up. A century later, more and more companies are experimenting customised offering for the discerning customer.

Can I have a laptop from Dell that meets my requirement, a smart phone from Apple that’s made just for me, a pair of glasses from Ray Ban that suits my lifestyle, a car from Volkswagen with a set of features that I need, cosmetics from L’Oreal just for me, a watch from Rolex just for me, medicine from Pfizer made to treat my physical condition, lessons in Harvard that suits my level of intellect and interest, my preferred breakfast at any Taj Hotel I go to? Opportunities are endless!

Are we ready?

Levi’s has carried out experiments to customize jeans for their customers, once in late nineties and second time in early 2000’s. Dell has mass customised its laptops very successfully in the past. There are many more examples where the customer picks and chooses items from a long list of possibilities and designs something unique for himself or herself. The possibilities run into thousands and hence, it is not very easy for all customers to make the right choices. Hence, companies have to design methods to deliver a wow experience to the customer. The methods have to keep pace with what a typical customer of theirs looks for, such as convenience, un-intrusiveness, expertise, history, track record, brand image, speed of action, responsiveness and so on. It’s clearly a tall order.

The organization trying to offer customized stuff needs a certain kind of human resources who are passionate about customer experience, knowledgeable in the domain and can engage with the customers meaningfully. Secondly, it needs to have the culture of engaging customers to discover their needs and developing a solution that delivers value. Top leaders in the company have to demonstrate this commitment by personal examples. Moreover, the organization has to build systems and processes to listen to customers, act on those voices and continuously develop its value delivery.

Technology isn’t the panacea.

Often we hear technology such as artificial intelligence can help in offering personalized services to customers, gathering their voice and analysing the results. Many companies have deployed bots and automation tools to improve user experience. All of these help but they are not the silver bullet to achieve the goal. The real value is created when one is able to meaningfully engage with a customer. As technology has become an integrated part of our lives, many customers are tired of automation and dehumanization. They look for a human interface rather than talking to a faceless system or a black box.

Secondly, the cost of delivering a personalized product or service is huge compared to mass production. An organization has to be sure that the customer recognizes the value delivered by such an offering and is willing to pay for the same. Else, you launch the product or service ahead of its time, weaken yourself by exhausting your resources too soon, expose your idea to be improvised by the others at a later date and risk losing the first-mover advantage.

Right time and Right place are essential for the customized economy to take off for your organization!



How does HR change in ‘Experience Economy’

ciel blog - experience economy

Recent study by Barclaycard who processes nearly 50% of UK’s debit card and credit card transactions, showed that customer spend in department stores, consumer appliances and vehicles have come down significantly while the spend on theatres, pubs, restaurants and cinemas have gone up. Many people do not want to spend money buying cars, homes and stuff; rather they would like to spend their time and money experiencing new environments, unique places, innovative practices, first-of-its-kind feelings and so on. Thanks to social media, they can flaunt all they have! And the friends and friends of friends make their posts go viral. That’s the experience youngsters are looking for!

If someone goes shopping or watching a movie, it’s a complete experience that she or he is looking for. Hence, the need is to go beyond what the shop sells or what the theatre plays. The shop has to think how it engages a customer right from the stage of pre-buy to long after the buy is done and provide an engaging experience. That is why modern-day theatres are turning into multiplexes complete with experience zones, food-courts, loyalty programs and are integrated with shopping centres, hair salons and game zones.

Today, owning stuff is not critical and does not necessarily reflect status, rather people are concerned about where they watched a movie, what holiday they went on, what they did there and where they had food and so on. It is not so much about what they bought as about the experience they had while buying. How is HR adapting on the face of this rise of a new economy called ‘experience economy’?

Candidate Experience all the way!

It is not a new theory – in the last two decades, business leaders and HR leaders alike, have stressed the importance of candidate experience. However, what has changed is about the ‘here and now’ impact of an experience that is not so good. Our smart phones and social media are a potent combination for the fire to spread and at the same time, has the potential to accentuate a positive experience.

HR Team has to be on its toes all the time to watch out for any negative comment and neutralize it at the earliest. Similarly, they need to gather the positive experiences and showcase those. It’s not natural for people to be spreading positive experiences as much as they do for negative stories. So, the HR team has a task at hand to create the right environment and spread the positives. It’s the experience which matters.

How is the Employee feeling now?

Each day at work is different for everyone in an organization. Employees work with their peers, sub-ordinates, bosses, also in some cases, with external stakeholders. Each interaction is a moment of truth and each moment adds to the overall experience. It is natural that all interactions do not become great. When the sum of all these experiences is above the mental image of a good day, the employee is happy. When majority of the days do not turn out to be good, it’s a trouble!

HR Team has to be tuned to the early signals and intervene at the right moment. Sometimes, HR teams are busy addressing various issues and hence, have no time to switch on their receivers. They do not make field visits, gather no relevant intelligence and hence, can at best operate in the reactive mode. Typically, organizations wait for the results of the annual employee satisfaction study to take action. But, it’s too late in today’s world! They have to find the energy, bandwidth, interest and capability to listen to all signals coming from the workplace so that appropriate actions can be taken in time.

Build the enabling infrastructure.

Often, the HR leaders and the Business leaders are well-intentioned to listen to experience of candidates as well as the employees. The HR team is capable of tuning into the vibes at the workplace and taking corrective actions. In spite of all the right things in place, execution suffers because the employees aren’t sure if they should be honest and genuine while interacting with the HR team and the senior leaders. They might be apprehensive because of unfavourable experiences in the past.

Leaders of the organization set the tone and show the candour in making decisions. This goes a long way in enabling the communication systems to work and collaborating with external centres of excellence to improve organizational processes.

In the days to come, as more and more people are going to be focused on the short-term and concerned about the experiences, HR has to ensure that agility and holistic approach in whatever it does right from talent attraction, assessment and acquisition to engagement, maintenance and development.


What’s your To-Do List for the New Year?

Ciel blog - New-Years-Resolution

This is the time of the year we talk about New Year Resolutions. And very soon, most of us forget about them. Some of us wonder what a good starting point is. Let us explore this!

Recognize Inefficiency Traps

We live in times where instant noodles and fast food are the order of the day, binge-eating is commonplace and speed is celebrated. We are expected to be tech-savvy and connected all the time. Managers are expected to be decisive and quick on their feet. Surely enough, these social norms are a result of the technologies that surround us. In the late nineties and early 2000’s, we saw most industries improving their productivity. However, in the last few years, there hasn’t been any such drastic changes in the outcomes. The disruptive technologies such as cloud computing, social media, AI and robotics haven’t been able to provide a quantum leap in individual productivity. Why?

We have definitely been able to automate many manual tasks and made life simpler. However, at the same time, we have been growing impatient, losing our calm, engaging in meaningless conversations and worrying way too much about tasks which are not in our control. These traps encourage inefficiency. Recognizing these and staying away from them is the need of the hour.

Agree on the moot point in a conversation

Our world celebrates action, recognizes boldness and expressiveness. Many of us think it is our duty to express. In our urge of forming an opinion quickly, we tend to jump to conclusions and react rather than trying to understand. We see conversations going astray because the parties aren’t listening to each other; rather their mind is busy strategising a counter-point.

We love the social networks but do not exhibit collaboration, sensitiveness and understanding in our day to day work. We announce to the world that we are feeling awesome while the truth is that we are feeling miserable. This is a dichotomy that we see at work each day. Our world will be a better place if we invest time and efforts to understand where the other person is coming from and what the moot point is. Since we are in a hurry, we react to the other person with the assumption that we have understood the point well.

Communication lessons taught us something called ‘feedback’. The listener is expected to check back with the speaker if his understanding is correct and accordingly, takes the next step of action. This lesson has gone out of the window. Can we go back to the basics and understand the moot point in any discussion? We will understand others well and be efficient in our actions.

Stay calm and healthy

One of the major issues plaguing our society is lifestyle diseases. Our pace at work combined with our insecurities and the volatility of our business environment exposes us to several peaks of emotions each day. Naturally, our body and mind gets hurt along the way due to the steep falls and rises that we ride on.

We hear advice on food, exercises, sleep, relaxation and various therapies. We find them difficult to practice because these address the symptoms merely. Unless we engineer at the root of the issue, the health troubles will not go away and hence, productivity will not improve.

I wonder why we have become restless, busy and prone to illnesses while the previous generation did not complain so much. There have been changes in lifestyle, right from the food that we eat, the amount of rest that we take, the variety of conversations we engage with and the modes of entertainment that we indulge in. All of these link to our state of mind. Can we loosen up a bit, be a bit more easy-going, identify a few variables which are less controllable and stop worrying about them? Calm minds stay healthy and do more!


Should you allow your people to work from home?

ciel blog - work from homeWe understand the pros and cons of working from home or tele-commuting. Significant amount of research has been carried out on the subject. The Third Wave of Virtual Work is an interesting read.

Though all forms of work cannot be carried out remotely, with growing concerns about traffic, commuting hours and the environment, employees are happy to tele-commute. Moreover, advances in technology have transformed the way we communicate, make decisions and collaborate at work. These days, it is pretty easy to work together on a virtual platform. Organizations save costs on physical infrastructure and employee welfare.

Yet some of us do not feel comfortable working out of small offices and home offices. Some feel under-motivated to perform at their best when they are physically removed from their colleagues. Hence, organizations are flexible in configuring their workspaces and the policies around tele-commute. Such flexibilities give rise to confusion in defining and administering HR policies. Sometimes, workers think that virtual-working will impede learning, affect career growth and attenuate their social skills.

Given this complexity, when should one promote remote-working?

How much collaboration and intuition is required at work?

Individual contributors like a writer, researcher, trainer, carpenter, plumber, electrician, draftsman, statistician, tele-caller, customer service by emails, documentation executive, accountant and so on work for long stretches of time independently. They do not need continuous guidance from their supervisor; neither do they need an interaction with another co-worker to complete the piece of output required from them. One can work from anywhere in these cases as long as one is certified for his or her proficiency in the job.

Many a times, the job involves trouble-shooting unknown issues or rarely occurring challenges. One needs to be on-site to observe the events, diagnose the problem, discuss with the others to explore solutions and develop new ideas. Though we have advanced methods such as video-conferencing, live chats and so on, in these situations, nothing compares being together and tapping into one another’s thoughts and capabilities in a seamless manner. Non-verbal communication and group dynamics play an important role in such tasks.

If you are flying a plane, driving a car, treating a patient, giving care to a child, taking order in a restaurant, playing a physical sport, receiving a guest in the hotel lobby, cooking a meal and teaching a kid, one needs to use one’s physical presence to communicate empathy, use intuition and deploy human energies. While technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics, high-speed computing and super-fast connectivity are developing fast, we haven’t yet seen machines which are able to replicate human behaviours. These roles cannot be remote-worked.

Do you have well-defined Performance Standards?

It is common knowledge but many many organizations in the world find it very difficult to define roles, structure the deliverables of a role and define the output in an objective manner. Employees remain busy in tasks and activities, but the deliverables are often not very clear to them. They think, each day is a new day and look forward to what their supervisor asks of them. They seek inputs, guidance and supervision.

The lack of clarity could be due to ignorance or assigning low priority to organization-building or inability to design a performance management system. In either case, remote-working becomes impossible. The supervisors do not trust the judgement of their direct reports and prefer to monitor them closely. In this kind of an environment, one cannot allow tele-commute.

Do you Walk the Extra Mile to Care for the Employees?

It doesn’t need a pundit to advise us that employees need to be cared for. What’s the fuss? Humans value freedom and independence, but at the same time, they need recognition, challenges and confidence of others. They need to experience the trust of their colleagues, team members and superiors. They need to connect with the purpose of their work.

Remote workers or virtual workers often are out of mind because they are out of sight. This happens when an organization has both kinds of employees in the same team. The virtual workers feel neglected; their commitment weakens and the vicious cycle of performance starts. It becomes difficult for them to recover from it. Employer brand takes a beating. Though tele-commute increases the talent pool and supposedly, increases retention, in this situation, one’s ability to attract talent goes down and productivity of such employees suffers.

The senior managers in an organization have to see the merit in tele-commute and drive the program passionately. They need to make sure that the work is designed well for individual contribution, the employees are continuously trained, work is defined well in terms of targets and performance indicators. And the remote-working employees must find an emotional connect with the organization and the work.


Should you invest on Training and Education of Employees?

ciel blog - invest on training and education

All workplaces want their employees to be at their productive-best. They invest energies on creating the right environment to perform, setting norms and values, organizing work in a manner that facilitates value creation, incentivising employees, adopting the right tools and technology, educating and developing employees and so on. Can someone stack-rank these factors so that efforts and investments can be accordingly channelized?

Training is good, What’s new?

Common wisdom says, most human beings are keen to learn new things. Given a fear-free environment and adequate sense of independence, they would apply the acquired knowledge on their work. They would practice newly acquired skills and sharpen the saw over time. They will need lesser efforts of guidance and supervision from their bosses. They feel cared for and valued.

Sometimes, such initiatives enable employees discover interest in new areas of work; they move out of their comfort zone and take up new kind of work within the organization. It allows the employer to move their employees across various roles in the organization. And at the same time, it helps employees acquire knowledge on various areas of work and be future-ready.

The moot question here, “Is training and Education a feel-good factor for the organization and the employees equally or do they directly contribute in revenues and profits of a business?”

Who misses the Training Programs?

Is it the manager who wants the program to happen or the employee who wants the program? All of us know, it is the ideal scenario when the manager as well as the employee want training, are keen on acquiring new knowledge and sharpening their existing skills. Most organizational contexts are far from this ideal.

When a manager believes that continuing investments in training keeps his troop ahead of the curve and motivate them to do more, the manager drives the initiative. He or she finds ways and means of designing and organizing appropriate reinforcements.

However, in many situations, managers believe, time on such activities is wastage of work hours; they see many lacunae in the program and believe, it isn’t good enough for their context. Some of them profess that employees must learn on-the-job and self-develop by observing others at work, drawing upon the resources on the internet. They exonerate themselves from the responsibility of developing their people and ask the employees to figure out a way of staying relevant to deliver what the job demands. The leaders have a problem here with their managerial talent! Before any further investment is made on training, they have to invest on the managers across levels in the organization to own up and drive the learning initiative in the company; and use it as a driver of performance.

When the HR team drops the beat on training, the Managers across the hierarchy of an organization must see this drop and put efforts to bring it back. That’s the goal of a high-performing organization.

It takes two to tango!

Organizations can facilitate learning, encourage acquiring new skills and create opportunities to learn. However, the onus lies on the learner. That is why they say, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

There are employees who tend to consider a training initiative to be a torture; they fail to concentrate on the learning objective, stay distracted, look for the comforts of a classroom and do not value the efforts put by their bosses and colleagues in creating the opportunity for him or her to learn. Hence, it is important that participation in continuing education, training and development is voluntary. There are industry sectors and certain roles which need the employee to upgrade his or her skills and knowledge on a continuous basis. In this context, an employee has to stay hungry for more knowledge and new skills. When someone shows a contra-behaviour, it’s time to bring in someone amenable to learn and develop rather than struggling to change someone’s motives.

Training and education is valuable only when the manager uses it to drive performance and when the employee craves for it!


3 Factors to consider while you boost your Organization Performance

ciel blog - performance boosting

Leaders at the top have the challenge of raising the bar and consistently deliver better performance. They are always hungry for ideas to brighten the future and energy to put those ideas into action. Given the resource constraints, they make choices and put all their energies along the chosen path. They stay the course until they are sure, the best has been given. What can they do to ensure that the performance is maximized and there is no regret in future?

Performance Ecosystem has to be Robust

HR Directors and Business Leaders know, the first step to a hi-performance organization is to define the understanding of success. They define the measures of success and assign goals for each of them. Then starts the flow-down to the bottom-most layer in the organization.

Organizations define KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for each role and get the manager to define a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) goal for the employee. There are periodic discussions to evaluate the progress and make course-corrections. They typically follow an annual cycle when the manager has a formal meeting with the employee to review the year’s achievements and efforts, draws up a development plan for the future and arrives at a performance score. There are various methods by which the HR team sanitizes these scores and ensures that the process is consistently followed. Most progressive organizations have this ecosystem in place. Is this adequate to deliver the best results?

Many task-focused HR departments ensure that the string of activities are executed tirelessly. They make sure that the manager records his or her feedback, draws up the goals for the next cycle of evaluation and arrives at the performance score. This in itself is a herculean effort which must be applauded. Unfortunately, this is not yet the best!

The shareholders are looking for the best results. This ecosystem ensures completion of tasks but does not guarantee consistent results. We need total alignment in the organization, right from the top to the bottom in terms of organization priorities, measurement scales and use of the tools in a uniform way. That brings the robustness!

Simple Design works the best

All of us know, objective measurements are easy and scalable; number of KPIs should be 3 to 5 and not more than that. We also know, behavioral competencies are difficult to measure and are important. So, they must not be a long list of items and at the same time, should be defined in a simple way along with a rating scale so that they are understood uniformly.

Many organizations make the mistake of defining too many KPIs for a role. Nobody remembers them and hence, are not focused upon in day to day work. Some organizations have different KPIs for the same role and some times, these are not in sync with what the leader at the top is aiming at. Often leaders have no time to define KPIs for the business enabling roles. In such a case, business enablers in the organization run helter skelter, fail to align with organization priorities and need not be on company’s full-time roles.

Hence, we must have a simple KPI structure that permeates the entire company and is logically aligned with those of the Top Leaders. Moreover, they must be transparent and well-understood.

OpMech matters

Operational Mechanics (OpMech) gets into the nuts and bolts of implementation. Leaders on the top have to ensure that the rank and file knows what is valued in the company. They must know what is to be done when a customer complains, an employee has a personal problem, a conflict arises with the supervisor, a vendor asks for undue favours, an employee behaves rudely, someone has been consistently missing targets, two departments have disagreements, a news about the competition is heard  and so on. The response to these issues define an organization and are much more deep-rooted than the KPIs, Rating Scales and Performance Scores.

Leaders have to find a rhythm to methodically reiterate what is valued, set examples and surface the difficult conversations. These form the bedrock on which the performance ecosystem operates. If the foundation is shaky, the ecosystem operating on the top could crumble suddenly some time. Hence, it is critical that the Top Leaders set the tone to define what is right and get their next levels to make those things operational at the ground level. Thus, the performance ecosystem works reliably as a seamless virtuous circle.


Can we create a gender neutral environment at workplaces In India?

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There have been debates around glass ceiling for women, inadequate participation of women in the Board rooms, inequality in pay, discrimination against women while recruiting and inadequate social infrastructure to support women at workplaces. These debates have been taking place across the world over the last few decades.

The debate continues…

We can already experience a huge change in India when we compare a workplace in the early 90’s and now. Number of women employees at work vis-a-vis men has risen rapidly; number of women students in the higher education courses such as Engineering and Management has increased manifold; many Boardrooms have women. Some of these changes have happened due to changes in legal provisions and some due to the peer pressure in the society. These days, firms provide paid maternity leaves for six months; some offer sabbaticals and friendly policies around pregnancy and early stages of motherhood. Governments make special arrangements to ease the woes of women in commuting to work, attending to strenuous tasks, working at odd hours and so on. There are additional safeguards such as Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act to dispel fears of women to come to work. All these are aimed at increasing participation of women in the economy and its GDP. In spite of so many changes in our society, the debate hasn’t been put to rest.

Let us not be fanatic about gender equality!


We have seen families in their overzealous drive to scale greater peaks of achievement in the realms of financial and professional status, compromise on building social capital for their future. The next generation that gets ready to join the workforce bears a set of values which are very different from their parents. Social scientists are studying this phenomenon. The jury is still out on that. However, one thing is for sure : fanatic rush to achieve a set of goals is not the same as focus and determination to achieve them.

We have seen senior executives of large multinationals chasing gender diversity targets and going on a recruiting spree to achieve that score. Does this overdrive get the organization the desired assets and human capital? Not always! The cost of such overdrive outweighs the results that we land up with.

Should each workplace reflect the gender ratio of the society?

As per 2011 Census we are 940 females per 1000 males. In 2001, it was 933 per 1000. This is nearly 49-51; should all organizations ideally have their workforce in the same ratio? If we are fanatic about gender equality, we will force every organization to reflect this.

Are we ready for this? While this could be a highly desirable situation and a socio-political masterstroke to pursue, it is not feasible at this point of time. We do not have so many women available for work. Reasons behind poor supply of women talent for work are plenty. Right from social dogma, economic need, availability of social infrastructure to opportunities, there are many factors.

Moreover, nature has created the bodies of men and women differently; it has created unique capabilities for each of them. We must not ignore them. We should leverage on this diversity rather than trying to fix everything with the same brush.

And at the same time, we must not typecast some roles with a certain gender as was the practice decades ago. Women need not be compulsorily raising children, growing families and providing care to the others. The point here is to argue against the mindless drive to achieve equal participation of men and women in each and every walk of life.

How can organizations deal with this?

We have many challenges at hand; we have to evolve pragmatic solutions.

When we see the rural vs urban India, we find more women in rural India participating in the labour force (27%) than in urban areas (16%). This could be due to the limitations in our social systems and economic realities. Women in the urban India are educated and capable as much as their men counterparts. Factors such as lack of support systems to take care of the young and the old in their families are a big obstacle. Organizations can leverage on this unemployed and under-employed diaspora by redesigning their work. Some parts of work can be done with no supervision, at hours the employee finds convenient; the organization has to build systems in such a way that one can find solutions when he or she faces a challenge. Needless to say that IT and the intent of the leadership are big enablers here.

We have seen several small organizations fearing the prospect of maternity leaves and the costs. While the intentions are noble and genuine, many of them find it too much of a disruption and too expensive. Secondly, we know how young mothers struggle to balance the demands at work with those at home. This is one of the big reasons why so many women drop out of the active workforce for many years in their prime and more often than not, find it difficult to return to the productive work life. Organizations have to influence the Government of the day to improve the social security measures, bear the costs and provide utilities such as creche, play schools and so on which people at large can avail. Currently, they are too few and far between.

In summary, we see this as a journey that has to be undertaken by the government, the society and the organizations at the same time towards leveraging the talent and capabilities that men and women possess. Social systems have to keep evolving so that the girls in the families do not fall behind when their parents prioritize the possibilities. The drive towards having equal participation across genders is mindless. Let this be based on the talent and capabilities only. If that makes 80 women and 20 men, so be it!