Performance Management and 3 Richards!!

I am sitting at the canteen with a friend (who also happens to be a senior leader) sipping some filter coffee when a young colleague comes in looking dazed and badly in need of some super strong coffee.

We procure one for him and let him take a few sips of the strong, hot, relaxing brew and ask him what happened.

“Ran into a ghost or something?” we ask helpfully.

“Man, how do you senior guys pick goals for us?.” The lament has officially begun. “My boss started off talking about the need for upskilling, deep-learning and endless curiosity, almost requiring me to become like Richard Feynman!”

“See – we seniors help turn you into a genius!” the two of us say in unison.

“Guess that’s where I made my blooper” says he in a lower and more aggrieved tone.”At that point, I wise cracked that I understood why Feynman would come in handy to my boss – he had the knack of explaining complex stuff to even a 5 year-old child!”.

“And..”, we ask expecting the discussion to now be peppered with fireworks.

“Well, the guy just started reading out the next section of my goals – now requiring me to be a showman who could wow clients, take risks (but always succeed!), diversify the business..”

“Did he also mention about sporting a cool hairstyle?” asks my friend.

“Nope, but he did say something about standing apart from the crowd”, says our young friend looking perplexed.

“He was just asking you to channel your inner Richard Branson. Check the goal sheet – as a stretch goal he may require you to secure a Knighthood for yourself”.

“Give me a break – I need a tomato juice” says our young friend and moves to the counter.

Now it’s our turn to be surprised. Tomato juice following filter coffee is not something we see often.

Our friend returns from the juice bar, plonks down his beverage and breaks into a beatific smile.

“Just when I thought my boss was all done, he asks me to deal compassionately with my team, be inclusive and diverse, do mind-fullness meditation exercises and never show anger”.

“Eh?” we sputter. This is novel. “Did he have a role model for this – ahem – perfect citizen behaviour”.

“He did. He asked me to follow the writings of Matthieu Richard – who apparently is the happiest man in the world. He even suggested I try attending one of his retreats – he recommended choosing Sunday, since we occasionally worked Saturdays”.

We were impressed. This boss guy and his 3 Richard system was something else altogether. We wondered how the session ended.

Our young friend now smiled his first happy smile. “But I ended on a high and had the last laugh – I told him that I would give these Richard-behaviours a shot and return in a year – but if he then asked me to become yet another Richard – no matter who – I would turn into Richard the Terrible. The expression my boss sported on hearing this made up for all the grades in the world. Thank god, the guy at least reads Shakesphere!”

Communicating strategically (!)

Enjoying some tea at the cafe last week, I heard myself advising a colleague “we’ve got to leverage our automation accelerator and show real value soon; let’s touchbase after a week and then close the loop with the customer”.

I saw her face break into a small frown before opening out into the familiar nod and broad smile. As always, she understood what was required and would take care of it – no problem.

A few sips later, it struck me – I had just unleashed a torrent of office speak (actually gibberish) at her. Try this version (with italics for emphasis!):

“we’ve got to leverage our automation accelerator and show real value soon; let’s touchbase after a week and then we can close the loop with the customer”.

Try that on someone who isn’t privy to IT speak and I promise you he’ll sport a startled look on his face for a week. I mean here I was using “leverage” as if I was Mr.Archimedes and promising to touchbase (when I didn’t even play baseball!). I was closing loops (maybe also jumping through hoops!) and talking about real value (is there any other kind?!). Man, was I talking funny!

I checked with my colleague if she concurred that I was infected with the “office speak” bug and she did – only she hadn’t realized it until later because these words and phrases were pervasive – you found them in every conference room, in every building. Was an epidemic really underway – we decided to run tests for a week.

The next day, walking into the workplace, I found a team member wearing a dazed look. Restored with our strong vending-machine coffee, he managed to let us know what had troubled him so. He had just been asked to create a “holistic, proactive approach to accelerate the IT and business cycle for a client – and this (and I swear I am not making this up!) was for a client who wanted one person to be onboarded for 6 weeks to execute some testing! Kind of like going to book a taxi ride and ending up buying a Mercedes sedan huh!

That afternoon, in a “brainstorming” session, a participant got up and asked to share his “2 cents of wisdom”. The 2 cents turned out to be 25 minutes worth of a monologue covering (but not limited to) the army, cricket, global issues, local resort experiences and many other things. The speech was peppered with stuff like “hitting the ball out of the park”, transforming with game changing ideas (maybe play cricket in a football field?), war rooms to foster collaboration (don’t ask me how!) and a lot more. Indeed, if “2 cents (or any other currency)” could be stretched so far, it is time for our Finance minister to take some lessons from him.

Five ‘o’clock saw me and 3 other colleagues finalizing the agenda for a client meeting (yeah, I am always in some meeting!). To be exact, we were doing a “round table” meet huddled around an oval-shaped table. Someone (yeah there’s always a Mr.Smart Alec in every meeting right) asked a tough question that no one had a ready answer to. The response he got was epic “let’s connect offline on this one”. Offline? We weren’t online now (we didn’t even have laptops in that meet!) anyway!

And so it went. Once you start looking, you’ll realize how many hours of fun, “office speak” can provide you. Are you listening Mr.Russell Peters/ other standup comedians – we’re ready to pose you some tough competition!

And with that, I’ll leave you to you to enjoy the weekend. I’ve got to get back to work – there’s a holistic strategy that involves a multi-faceted technique I’ve got to spend time on. I promise you it will transform our client’s business and make them undergo a paradigm shift. So long then!

Questions on an idle day

I just dont get “everyday” design! Have you ever wondered why:

  1. AC remotes, laptop keyboards etc. require you to switch the back-light on. Shouldn’t they figure out its dark and just switch themselves on?
  1. Why does my ATM ask me for my preference of language every single time? Doesn’t my bank have enough data on me by now to understand how I process my transactions? Maybe it should even hand out a chocolate or two when it sees me next?
  1. Why does my car not have the ability to move (slide) sideways? If it did, parallel parking would become a breeze (and so many more folks would get their licenses easily!). Over 50 years of automobile innovation surely this should have been possible?
  1. Why security-personnel check the chassis and the boot but not the seats when we enter workplaces, hotels and so on? Is there an unwritten rule among the bad guys that they cant stash their bad stuff on or below the seats?
  1. What purpose do surrogate advertisements really serve? Are there really people who believe Smirnoff sodas are awesome?
  1. Why do sedan cars not have a rear wiper while hatchbacks do?
  1. Highways aren’t high. Down towns aren’t down. How do they name these things?

Wearing apple in a windows world

Navigating a windows, white-collared world using Apple products is a very interesting experience, here’s my offer to take you by the hand and lead you to the promised land.

But I get ahead of myself there – let’s talk first about who I am not and what this article isn’t about (for 2 negatives make a positive!):

1. This is not a review of any apple product and I am not an expert on this topic by any length of imagination! If an in-depth-review is what you desire, please type “apple product review” in google and take your pick from the 10,000 search results google so obligingly throws up (p.s: I would go with “I am feeling lucky”)..

2. I am not an apple fanboy – at least not yet. I like some of the stuff and there are a few things I think they should do differently. Considering I am not an expert however, its likely my affinities result from me not understanding enough of these toys – so best to ignore me on this one.

Now with that out of the way, let’s move on with our story.

Like many (millions I suspect) others, I grew up on a staple diet of windows software – more specifically windows office software. By now, you may have decided on me being one of the many nameless, faceless millions working on spreadsheets during the mornings and then dutifully boxing them into ppts in the afternoon – only to repeat all of this the following day – albeit with an excursion detailing the charts out over 30 strips of “word” pages. You wouldn’t be far wrong – I am he! BTW, I also spend time on drafting meticulous, humongous mpp gnatt charts, much of which end up in a forgotten file in a lost folder on a terabyte directory powered by – you got it windows!

There was a day a year or two ago when all of this changed. That momentous day, I saw a colleague hunched over a very sleek looking tablet device, all too immersed in a game requiring him to chop fruits pushed by an unseen hand (from somewhere at the top of the screen) and collect points as his reward – 20 for chopping a watermelon cleanly, 50 for an apple – you get the idea. Pointless fun of course – unless you were planning to apply for the post of the fruit salad chef. I however, loved it – it felt just like one of my excel-based- astrology-sessions where I prophesize about revenues in remarkable detail three-five years into the future. To top it all, the brilliant colours, the smooth animation (and the inestinguishable fruit bowl which was now throwing kiwi fruits at him with reckless abandon) appealed to me like bingo! Long story short, I ended up buying one of those remarkable machines (it turned out to be the iPad) and taking the first steps to becoming an apple guy. Yes, the first program I loaded onto it was that fruit chopping game – a game I played for an exhaustive period of a day and a half before delegating it to our ever reliable lost folder (the apple one is called “purchased” and belongs to a fascinating-alienisque land called iTunes). More on iTunes later in part II.

A phone followed the tablet and more recently a mac air came into my life. I suspect, thats when “the endowment effect” started playing – i.e you value things in your life more (your car’s worth so much more than your neighbours’ – you get the idea)- and I started scanning the world for other comrades from Apple land.

Many of the Apple netizens I chanced first upon seemed to come fitted with vibrant hairstyles, sunglasses that were three times too big for them , clothes that would have made a peacock proud and generally looked liked folks who had walked out of a Speilberg ET set. These were pure apple folks – not “apple in windowed places” like the ones I was searching for. My kin I was more likely to find in the workplaces where meetings were meetings and managers were managers.

So I began to look around the workplace, and the travel places which conduit one (think trains, busses, cars, bullock carts….) to that remarkable place where remarkably, unremarkable work often happens! There behold, I began to see my fellow folks and the apple technology at work. The guy in the pinstriped suit and in the backseat of a small car had one, the important looking woman seated in one of the chennai-trademark “shared autorickshaw” had it too. So too did the benign grandfatherly-looking man who was playing a game (at least appeared to be) of “teen patti” on it. Just so you know, he also sported a single earring on his left ear.

As I looked closer, I discovered these apples weren’t all Cupertino natives. Some were from Steve Jobs’ hallowed land of course. Some others had those little white stickers of the now famous bitten-white-apple on decidedly un-apple products. There were even some real specimens (with stickers saying they were grown from Monsanto seeds in Nigeria) sitting on top of a Nokia feature phone from 1970 – which when you think about it is a jugaad-version of an iPhone (india phone). Of course it was functional – and did have the one most important feature that all indians crave – the missed call!

One fact struck me as ominous though; while the sticker and monsanto’ed folks sported a big smile on their faces , the cupertino-designed- apple-owners wore a big frown. They seemed worried that their precious “apple” was turning out to be a lemon in this pervasively “windowed” world. It’s for those friends that I write this piece. Be reassured my friends – I belong to your world too and have a few aces up my sleeves to reveal to you. These will transform your frowns into 32-tooth smiles I promise!

So let’s begin – tighten your seat belts and let the transformation begin already!

To start off, turn on your machine, whip out your credit cards and buy Microsoft office for Apple now. Right now! It’s available for the mac and its available for the iPad.

You may be tempted by the 100+ imposters on the iTunes store who promise equivalents that claim to be close to the real thing. Beware of them my friends – for they are telling the truth – they are close but not the real thing – a truth that is often realised (to our discomfiture) when the imposter software edits out the all-important punchline of your presentation and you and your client are left to launch an exploration together for the missing line during that super-critical presentation! Imposters build togetherness, they sharpen hunting skills – but they do little to build business credibility. The official software on the other hand handles everything you throw at it – macros, transitions and animation, pivot charts (yes that thing taken by all excel lovers with their morning tea!) and works like a charm. Be not penny wise, pound foolish comrade. Buy the software now (sure, the software costs a himalayan-volume of pennies, but in comparison to the cost of your Apple machine it will seem molehill-ish – so the proverb does hold good).

Second, buy the Microsoft communicator (or lync if you are on the iPad). Windows-nurtured office guys and girls (actually unix, linux and applefied unix all do, but let’s stay on topic shall we?) love to gossip, and this software will allow you to listen in all the water-cooler stuff. In case you are wondering – the gossip may not help you change the world, it will however make time go faster by – and that does make all the difference!

Dont stop with these buys – repeat the buy process for all microsoft office products you use a lot in your daily work life. The more, the merrier. So if you use share-point regularly, buy the share-point connector/ document connector software. Onenote – check. All of this look like a lot, but believe me – its stuff that will give you 8 hours of sound sleep.

At this point, your purse your lips and ask (sternly) – “You (fill in your favourite swear word here) ask me to binge on Microsoft stuff on my apple – if I do this, how can I go out and say i am the Big Kahuna? Sounds more like wolf in sheep clothing ( actually the other way around if you think about it) to me?”

Here’s where I get to smile and say “Don’t worry comrade, statistics prove 60% of the office folks actually use a mac for just the above. You are in good company. So crunch your *numbers*, draw your *keynotes* and author your *pages* happily – and if you haven’t yet realised, the ones in italics are apple’s super cool (and what’s more free!) alternatives to the Microsoft office ones. By by all means use them and enjoy life (and even believe in the religion of “compatibility” all you want) – only be warned that if your boss is going to present to a key audience using Microsoft armoury, you’ll want to check and make doubly sure that when he presents his signature slide, his Ferrari isn’t magically converted into a dogcart. Compatibility issues can do that to you – and more!

Now, that we are past that hurdle (And I can already see you smiling), will sign off and be back for part 2 of the apple story next week. Like I said, once we are done with this series you will be like a toyota camry hybrid – everyone will cheer for you. And we will help you fill your tank before venturing into an electric-outlet-less-land journey. Cheers.

The biking chronicles – at the shop…

I seem to remember that sleeping beautyslumbered for a hundred years before her prince arrived and woke her up. And then – says the story – they lived happily ever after.I suspect though that they left out a little bit on that fairy tale. I am sure our beauty would also have been startled to see her baby-nephew (as she knew him before she went a sleeping) walking in with a bent back, aged hair and a walking stick. She must have been amazed to see the horse carriage of her pre-slumber somehow transformed into a gleaming jaguar. And so on….

Now I bring this up because I felt just like sleeping beauty must have after that wonderous,long sleep (of course I didn’t feel half so beautiful, but certainly twice as rattled) when I walked into the bike shop the other day.

For starters, get this straight – today’s bikes are way more complicated than your cars. Your car could have 5,6 or 7 gears (any more and the engineers simplify and make it an automatic which would mean just one gear to contend with); your bike on the other hand is likely to have 21 or more. Your car can be only one of 4 types:

– a big bad guzzler (read suv),

– a sleek toy to win the admirers over (sports car),

– a hatch (now what does it hatch by the way?)

or the one one with a tail (sedan).

The bikes though have many, many categories. You can choose yours based on
– size (small, medium or large – maybe they even have an extra large like you’d prefer your coffee – and the beers)

– usage (mountain – never mind there’s none within a 100 radius, road or hybrid),

– metals used (titanium, carbon, alloy and many such more you can make sense of only if you still remember the periodic tablethey taught you back at school),

– foldable (yes you read that right – there are bikes you can fold and carry on your backpack, try that with your car)…..

“Sir, would you prefer a carbon fork?” asks the sales guy cutting into my reverie…

I am confused. Do they now serve cutlery on bikes too – “Truth be told, I’d prefer steel or plastic better” I haltingly reply.

Now he looks a little surprised and then sizes me up.

“You new to b-i-k-e world?” he queries spelling each letter like you would to a toddler (and one not quite as smart as the honesttoddler at that!). When I answer in the affirmative, I seem to notice a gleam in his eye while he excuses himself to meet with his comrades and plan on how to make this deal count (I suspect he also called his wife and promised her some jewellery as he sees some fat commissions come his way…).

Here’s the third bomb. Bikes follow the “management by subtraction” logic unlike cars. So while you’d pay more for a car that has more features, you pay most for a bike that has less (except for the gears of course, still wondering why they need 21 of those..).

I soon end up with a bike sans a bell (and that too in India – even the circus mono-cycles have bells here!), a stand (do I have to carry it always?), mud guards (maybe they’ll also sell me a washing machine considering its monsoon time here?), suspensions and a lot of other stuff – and a hefty price which confirms my bike is mmiddle upper class!

My mind boggles. The friend’s too – and he goes out and smokes 20 cigarettes on the trot. The sales guy comes over and pats me consolingly on the shoulder.

“Never mind, I will give you a bell, a stand, a guard, a water bottle…just don’t tell the manager”. And to make me happy he demoes a feature – the wheels on my bike are removable it appears – a feature I think I will use once every 10 years or so…

And so I exit the shop with an expensive bike, a bag consisting an even more expensive set of accessories (essentially they take everything out of the bike, put it in a bag so you can carry it on your back and then charge you twice the amount – don’t ask me why!). But there’s a silver lining – my bike comes equipped with an Indian flag (just about everything else is from Taiwan or maybe Congo for all I know).

As the wise man said, something learned (me), something earned (he) – what more can you ask on a sunny day?