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!

 

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4% owner can stir it up hard!

ciel blog - 4% woner - SIKKA-MURTHY - infosys debacle

Last week was momentous for many, particularly for professional CEOs and their Boards. Infosys, the iconic IT services company of India was in the news. The differences of opinion between the Board and its charismatic founder were out in the public. The shareholders as a whole became poorer by nearly 3 Billion USD on one day of trading. The company had to announce a buy-back of shares worth 2 Billion USD. One wonders if this whole episode was so unavoidable. Could the CEO have managed the stakeholders better? Could the Board have done better in their public relations as well as following the governance norms? All these questions become interesting especially when the complainant is a mere 4% owner in the company.

It takes two to tango:

A large part of the media and the Board have showed the founder in poor light and objected to his expressing the criticisms publicly. They felt, the founder having retired from the company has to let go and cede control to the successor so that the new leaders can run the company the way they deem fit. Some of them also felt that the actions taken and norms followed in the yesteryear by the Founder are not valid in the current times. The benchmarks of governance have moved and hence, applying the old methods and norms are nothing but nostalgia. Moreover, the founder being an iconic figure himself when is found criticizing the new team publicly, it hampers the abilities of the new team to perform.

And at the same time, the new team has taken several radical steps which do not seem to make sense to a typical observer and moreover, haven’t shown appreciable results in the near term. Future plans seem to be a distant dream to many. Values of the organization such as sincerity and ethical standards seem to be getting compromised of late. While there is a buzz of new things, they seem to appear hollow to many. However, the CEO and the Board remain deeply convinced of their strategies. These are situations where the team has to be working overtime to instill confidence in the stakeholders and calm their nerves rather than operate from the high altar.

The criticisms abound on both sides : the founder overstepping his remit and the CEO ignoring the basics of stakeholder management. It takes two to tango!

Touchy about criticism?

When you are the poster boy, many people look at you, talk about you and follow you. There is bound to be a lot of love and the same amount of hate too!

When the CEO and the Board meet, they must have reviewed the sentiments and opinions expressed in the marketplace towards the company. They know, this messaging would influence functioning of the company. They also know, the criticisms of the founder would be heard in the market and would impact the company even if the founder owned a mere 4% in the company. So, one wonders why the CEO got into an outburst on one fine day eroding a significant part of shareholder wealth and creating a sense of panic not only within the company but also in the industry. One doesn’t expect the boss of a 10 B USD company to react hurriedly to a spate of scathing attacks, especially when he believed them to be untrue and baseless.

Did the task ahead look too daunting and hence, the criticisms were too much of a bother? The lesson for me here is to keep the ears close to the ground and act early to influence opinions.

Take the most along:

One of the most important facets of leadership is to champion the change program and lead it from the front. Along the journey, the leader has to build a momentum and ensure that most people are on board. If he signals too soon for the bogie to move on, most of his co-travellers will be left behind. The bogie will move on and catch great speed, but it would have very few on board. The journey then becomes dull and meaningless. The desired impact of the journey is not achieved.

Organizations in their quest to transform themselves get someone with new perspectives as their leader, however the leader needs to understand the culture, the values and beliefs which define the organization. Keeping in mind the future goals, the pace and style of the transformation program has to be designed.

Like one must train well before one runs the first marathon, the leader needs to join the mainstream before he changes the course. Else, the stream keeps flowing its course and at best, the leader is able to create a couple of small distributaries  from the stream. Possibly, for Infosys, a large part was not aligned fully and the new leaders were not able to take the most along with them! Hence, the lesson for me is to take everyone along!

Do you build consensus?

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Democracy is the largest form of governance in the world now… close to 60% of the world’s population live in democratic nations. Our societies value freedom of speech, majority view and the power of making choices. Organizations are microcosms of our societies and hence, we behave the same way at work. We expect our leader to be consulting us, acting upon our views, figuring out the majority view and updating us about the state of affairs from time to time.

Long and Arduous

Leaders often are worried about the time it takes to arrive at a decision if they open out the process to their team. Given the diaspora of our society, it is natural that the manager gets wide-ranging opinions and perspectives. Firstly, it takes time and effort to explain the issue to the team; secondly, it takes time to listen to the opinions of people. And most importantly, given the diverse suggestions one receives, it is not easy to decide. In the leader’s mind, there might be something very compelling but the team might not be seeing it with equal fervour. So, the leader takes time to re-position the issue and repeat the process. This is undoubtedly a long and arduous process.

Apply it in the right context

It is not possible that a manager builds consensus for each and every decision. As long as the guiding principles and values are clear, governance becomes easy and non-controversial. So, first of all, organizations need to create appropriate methods and platforms to co-create the guiding principles which determine the way of life. Secondly, a manager must recognize when the issue is complex either because of the inter-dependencies or it has a conflict with one or more principles. Those are the situations which need a larger involvement of people at different levels of the organization.

This is easier said than done. When one opens up the issue to the larger audience, various possibilities come at play. Some people see various lacunae in the capability of the boss; some people come up with utopian ideas due to their lack of knowledge or experience; some people in their quest of coming under the spotlight raise various issues. So, a manager ends up spending a lot of energy in cancelling the noise.

One needs to know which level of the organization needs to be involved and to what extent in the process. At times, discussions with colleagues help simplifying the issue and evolving new possibilities. Hence, participative style of leadership has to be applied in the right context!

Sustainable method

It is unlikely that the manager or the leader knows all. And at the same time, one must have the humility to learn new perspectives and develop solutions in collaboration with others. While making a decision, one has to be clear if the decision has a long term impact on the organization. For example, evolving the 3-year strategy, introducing a new product, launching a new advertisement, entering into a new wage agreement with the union, modifying the rewards scheme and so on have far-reaching consequences on the organization.

An organization can ill-afford to let all such decisions rest squarely on the shoulders of one person or a handful. While building a consensus takes time and calls for efforts to dialogue, it is critical to invest these efforts for the long term health of the organization. Participative style on all strategic issues for the organization assures sustainability.

The leader has to know when to apply democratic style and involve whom in the process.

Are you the charismatic leader?

ciel blog - charismatic leadershipAll of us revere charismatic leaders. We relate to the charisma of leaders like Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Jack Welch and so on. We get mesmerized with their words and inspired with their actions. We idolize them and do not need to examine their words with a lens of rationality. They do not need any special intervention to align the thoughts of their team members. Once signed up, the members stay committed to the cause and the conviction levels do not change. How often do we see such leaders? Is charisma a born quality or it can be acquired? When do we know that we have a charismatic leader amidst us? Is it practical to expect all the leaders in an organization are charismatic?

Is Charisma something that you either have or don’t?

People ask if leaders are born or made. Loads of research have taken place and most of them seem to be believe that one-third of leadership traits are in-born and the majority of the traits are learnt. Similarly, is Charisma a born quality?

If charisma is a born quality, all the leaders that we consider charismatic would have shone brightly right from their first experience of working with a group. We know of tales of these great leaders who were shy and private personalities; were not the natural public speakers. All of them were not gregarious; they were not magnets attracting people towards them. They were inspired by a cause and built a franchise of support base that connected with the same cause; they developed their ability to connect with the audience through their words – spoken and written; though their actions on the ground in support of the same cause. They knew how to establish that unique connection and kept at it. So, charisma is something that grows over a period of time like skills develop, maturity grows and strength evolves. It isn’t binary like YES and NO. It is a process of acquiring it one’s own way.

Good for an Organization?

Many predicted that Apple Computers will be in trouble after its charismatic leader Steve Jobs was away. Similarly, people weren’t sure if GE would continue staying at the top after Jack Welch is gone. However, all these fears have been put to rest.

It is true that a charismatic leader has a huge fan-following. So, organizations function very well without worrying much about the internal processes for governance and decision making. Various stakeholders respect the aura of the leader; they tend to see the bright side of the actions and gloss over the dark sides. The charisma of the leader is so strong in the minds of the followers that the leader’s intentions are never questioned.

For a sustainable organization, it is important to have democratic processes, objectives and rational approach interlaced with commitment of its employees towards the overall goal. Since a charismatic leader inspires the teams very well and the leader’s appeal is strong in their hearts, the organization stays cohesive. It is not necessary to put in place many internal processes and run them rigorously.

Missionaries of Charity ran in more than 100 countries in the world because all the teams in the world were deeply influenced by Mother Teresa, their leader. They did not need a machine-like organization to deliver the results. However, for the organization to sustain for many more decades, strong processes are required. A charismatic leader will be a huge plus, of course! A start-up, a new idea flourishes very well under the leadership of a visionary, a charismatic persona; for it to blossom into a greater and bigger institution, one cannot rely on charisma alone.

Grow your charisma!

We look upto someone who speaks his mind and appeals to our hearts. As much courage is needed to speak up, that much is required to listen! Do we listen to understand someone and examine our beliefs or counter the other person’s view point? Can we step into someone’s shoes and feel what the person is going through? Do we genuinely care for the people we work with? Do we show our care and compassion bound by the role of being the boss or we do it because we seriously care of their well-being? Do we talk the talk or walk the talk? Talking the talk wins someone the face-time but not the heart-time. Do we wear the mask of being confident, knowledgeable, unassailable, invincible and enigmatic all the time or stay human? Do we stay humble? Do we improve continuously and accept our follies?

Being authentic and human, passionate about a cause and connecting with the larger audience are the best solutions for someone aspiring to be a charismatic leader.

Do you really believe in diversity, as a leader?

ciel blog - cross cultural leadershipAs businesses are operating in an increasingly interconnected world, they find their stakeholders coming from different backgrounds of religious practices, cultural norms, language nativities, social do’s and don’ts. For a leader, it is not easy to deal with such a large diversity. Given an opportunity, most people tend to build an ecosystem that draws upon similarities rather than thriving on novelties. Some people welcome and in fact, look forward to understanding diverse practices; however, they do not have to deal with a wide range of emotions, multitude of ambitions and a sea of perspectives each day of their lives. Getting such a group of people from diverse backgrounds to converge on a few ideas is quite a challenge.

Why do organizations value diversity so much?

Undoubtedly, the first step is to recruit a mix of talent in terms of gender, academics, culture, ethnicity and physical abilities. The second and the most crucial step is to include all of them and engage all their hearts on the same set of goals and drive a common sense of purpose. All of us know that leading a diverse team is not an easy task, yet most forward-looking organizations call upon their employees in managerial roles to see the bright side of the coin.

We grow up with a set of social beliefs, norms and practices. We operate with a set of do’s and don’ts by the time we join the labour pool. We behave in certain ways without knowing why we do as such. In an organization, an employee deals with stakeholders who is not necessarily having the same perspective as the employee has. If the organization lacks diversity, the mismatch between viewpoint of the employee with that of the external stakeholder starts manifesting as customer complaints, employee grievances, lack of motivation to achieve the goals and so on. The stress starts showing up in the results of the firm.

To solve this undesired situation, organizations assemble a team which brings to the table a variety of experiences, views and beliefs. This team starts viewing a challenge from multiple angles and develops a solution which is more holistic than that can be delivered by a homogeneous team.

Inclusion is much beyond the diversity index.

Organizations want diversity and the index must look good. Hence, they want to hire women leaders, ex-servicemen, people from cities other than the home city, people with different abilities, young mothers returning back to work, older folks and so on. What do they get other than a healthy number meeting the target of diversity index?

One must not lose the sight of the wood for the trees. Organizations want diversity because they believe that they would be able to respond to external and internal situations holistically. The leader has to be build the environment where all the viewpoints are generated, heard and worked upon. Diversity plays its role only when the power of this characteristic is leveraged.

Organizations have to build platforms to bring together all groups of people to analyze a situation and come up with alternates. Every view must reach the ears and minds of people who are supposed to act on them.

Do not compromise the pace!

A leader in the armed forces has to direct the troops rather than engage in a dialogue and debate. This is because of the fact that a battlefield does not allow the luxury of time for a discussion, debate and consensus. Organizations who want to leverage on the power of diversity might get caught in the trap of slow pace. In today’s world, businesses need to be extremely agile. How can one be agile, yet at the same time engage all its rank and file in conversations?

In fact, organizations who value the talent of their employees, provide them with adequate freedom and independence to act. This empowerment creates a sense of responsibility and ownership in the minds of the employees, in turn creating a greater organizational momentum. A homogeneous workforce, on the other hand, might just fall into a zone of comfort, take things for granted and not challenge each other enough. It is not necessary that a lack of variety makes decision making easy and quickens the pace of execution. And at the same time, diversity does not slows things down.

The leader has to truly believe in the fact that a cross-cultural team can potentially deliver holistic and complete solutions. He has to build the right platforms in the organization to facilitate integration of ideas.

Are you Transforming your Team?

ciel blog - transformational-leadershipEvery leader wishes to leave his mark behind in the minds of the people he works with and the journey of the institution decades after he has stepped down. This is not only applicable in an organization but also for a teacher, a parent, a doctor, a caretaker, a gardener, practically everybody. A teacher imparts knowledge, builds skills and shapes thinking of the student not only to be measured at the end of the academic term rather the impact on the life of the student through the years after he or she has graduated from the class. Do we not remember such teachers? Similarly don’t we recall having been deeply impacted by the words and behaviours of a babysitter, an office assistant, the security guard in the parking lot? We certainly do. That is because these individuals transformed our thinking on a subject and our way of life. They demonstrate the qualities of the celebrated transformation leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and so on. What do they do differently? Can we learn and practice them?

They had a dream which grew vivid each day!

These transformation leaders dreamt big and saw what others did not dare exploring. Steve Jobs looked at the music players differently from the others; Akio Morita saw the need to listen to music outdoors; Bill Gates saw the need to simplify the interface of a computer so that millions can use the computer; Bindeshwar Pathak reformed the way people in India answered the call of nature while travelling for long time; Dr. Devi Shetty delivered world-class cardiac-care at affordable prices by several innovations in the work processes. We can see many more such as mobile phone camera, cab aggregation, ecommerce, social networks, advances in healthcare, agriculture, education and so on. All these leaders saw an opportunity to simplify life, serve humanity or fortify our planet. For a manager, a parent, a teacher or whatever role one might have taken, the question is, “Do I have a dream and see the possible ways to reach there?”

Mahatma Gandhi saw the picture of independent India in his head; Mother Teresa saw a world free from suffering and full of compassion. They kept thinking of the ways and means of reaching the goal. History tells us how these leaders undertook various experiments, some of which worked and some did not. The point to note here is that these leaders did not give up, kept altering the course with the same vigour and determination. Possibly, the picture grew vivid in their mind by the day and the passion took them closer to the goal. They talked about it and the others followed.

They care for the others!

The Transformation Leaders communicate their vision with their followers and inspire them to follow the path. They listen to them with interest; take personal interest in fulfillment of individual needs and aspirations to the best possible extent. They build an environment of mutual trust, respect and sharing with their team members. They care for bonding among the members of the team.  They listen to the concerns of their team members and act upon them transparently. They don’t brush issues under the carpet, rather discuss them openly and seek solutions. They mentor their team deeply, inspire them to co-create the path and co-own the achievements. It calls for high degree of sacrifice and mental energy to embrace the diversity of thoughts and energies. Do we practice it daily?

They stretch their intellectual bandwidth!

Intellectual capability is not about the academic qualifications and honours one earns in life. It is about one’s ability to empathise with others, think deeply about a situation and connect the dots to decide the course of action. They challenge the sense of purpose, evolve the course of action and do not hesitate to change the course. They recognize their strengths, limitations and egos. They balance rationality with gut-feel and use them judiciously in taking risks and making decisions. The external world which is used to a high degree of order and structure will find it difficult to relate to the internal environment of such a team. The members of the team being highly aligned with their leader, have complete faith in the path and a great degree of association with the purpose, do not find the continuous change to be chaotic and disturbing; rather, they find it invigorating and encouraging. Do we deep-dive and at the same time learn from the others with humility?

It is easier said than done to transform a situation. It takes humility to learn and the focus to practice the art each day of our lives. Our actions of today will not only transform lives in the near term but also many more in the long term.

Are you a Laissez-faire Leader?

The High Call of Church LeadershipIn our world today, a significant part of our workforce values freedom, demonstrates self-confidence and sets high ambitions. This phenomenon is not restricted to the white collar workforce, rather all-pervasive. Leaders  having the experience of directed people and having seen their managers directing teams in a certain way, find the changing environment discomforting. They are trying to readjust their styles and adapt to the new situation. It is common knowledge for a leader to practice clear communication while delegating tasks, but the trick lies in the manner of delegation, the tasks are organized and distributed.

Micro-managing or Hands-on Leadership?

Leaders in their quest to be clear, get highly task-focused at times. They tend to break down the goals into miniature steps, direct their team members in carrying out each of those steps, measure the results and tell them what to do when the results differ from the desired goals. Is this micro-managing or leading the team hands-on?

It depends upon the context in which the leader operates, the experience and the maturity level of the team members. Let us say, the team is highly skilled and the members have a good level of understanding and co-operation. This is a good situation to adopt a laissez-faire leadership where you need the team to know the end-goal, the near-term milestones, the purpose behind achieving the milestones and the timelines. Since they know the ‘how’ and ‘what’, the leader does not need to tell them the break-down. It is good enough for the leader to keep an eye on a few parameters at an appropriate interval of time. The team needs a pat on the back at the right time; a few insights and suggestions as and when needed. However, at times, leaders in their quest of ‘being in control’ get anxious and micro-manage. They hurt the team dynamics by over-monitoring, nit-picking and meddling too much. One must know what kind of delegation works the best in the given context!

A team which is newly formed or has many freshers or relatively inexperienced members needs support and direction. Managing them by setting a high-level goal, defining the objectives and a process might not sound wrong. However, the team could potentially feel lost, un-cared for and dull given this style of delegation. They need a style of hands-on leadership where the leader is always eager and available to help the members on-demand, coaching real time, enthusing the team when a task is done well and course-correcting when needed. In this context, the leader isn’t micro-managing, rather showing hands-on leadership.

Are you abdicating your responsibility by Laissez-faire style?

One argues that the laissez-faire style of leadership could create a lot of free time for the leader if the primary responsibility of delivering the results is passed on to the Direct Reports.

Experienced people look for independence in decision-making and a certain amount of latitude in going about achieving their goals. Hence, the top boss has to provide the space for them to function and steer their respective teams towards the predefined goals.

Given this context, the top boss has to find a way of adding value by providing the necessary encouragement to his team crafting a space to support them and continuously evolving it in tune with the challenges that they face. This is easier said than done since this space that we are talking about, is fuzzy and more often than not, determined by the dynamics in external environment.

A leader fails miserably when he passes on all his responsibilities in the name of delegation and takes on the administrative role of aggregating information and presenting them to the others. The team stops looking up to him and relating to the larger purpose behind the goals. It loses momentum and often looks forward to holidays, breaks and off-sites. This is worst that can happen to any team.

The Leader has to be playing alongside his team.

Every game has multiple stakeholders and there are umpteen challenges. The leader has to be playing alongside his team or the concerned member in the team solving the tough issues rather than merely being an observer.

It is easy to divide a target into a few parts and assign each part to a member in the team. However, the leader’s job doesn’t end with it. Rather, it starts right there. The critical contributions of the leader must be in creating an environment for the team to succeed, providing the right strokes of rewards and reprimands, getting hands-on to solve an issue or create a process or a system. The energy levels, confidence and the determination of the team must be held up by the leader.

Laissez-faire works well. But, there is no one particular style that works for all the situations. While the leader delegates, one must know what to delegate, how to monitor and what to get one’s hands dirty with.