Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Power of Setting Free

“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better” goes a famous saying. Google up freedom and you will get a thousand quotes from famous and not-so-famous people over the ages. It is one of the most used words and most desired states to be in for all human beings. It is something for which we have fought each other through the ages. And yet, in the world as in corporate life, one often gets to see the other extreme. In majority of sectors and organizations today there seems to be an excess of control which is being imposed on employees. Every organization is built around a certain value system which characterizes it, these are manifested to the employees and the external world through vision, mission and value statements. These denote what the organization stands for, what is the image it wants to project to the external world and what is the purpose of its existence. Once an employee joins an organization, this comes across to the employee in the form of organization culture- that soft aspect which one feels while working for an organization. These are propagated and upheld by the central or head office, and flow to the various branches or locations from them, and to do that every organization needs to have systems and processes to standardize practices. There is no disputing the importance of such processes, these are what ensure employees follow a standardized approach towards work, quality standards are upheld and the customer gets to see a uniform face of the organization across locations and service verticals. However there is also a sub-plot here, one that gets played out in the smaller teams in the locations. There is an evolution life cycle for any new employee who joins a team in the organization. He starts off as a rookie, learns about the organization and its processes and policies, gets trained on the job, undergoes skill upgradation (hopefully!) and becomes a fully contributing team member in a particular time frame (typically 6 months-1 year, depending on the job complexity) (I am talking of the middle section of the bell curve here, and not of the extremes). It is but obvious a new joinee would require hand-holding in his rookie avatar, and has to be brought up-to speed by his supervisor. This is the phase where one tends to micro-manage and closely monitor the daily performances and activities. However, the problem starts when this micro-managing becomes a way of life, even after the employee has begun contributing fully, and there is no particular issue on the skill or will front (ability vs willingness, for the framework inclined!). I have observed we are often reluctant to give autonomy to our team members. There are various mindsets at work- not having enough trust on the person that he will be able to do a good job without supervision, insecurity as supervisor (what will I do if I don’t monitor him? That is my job!), a know-it-all attitude (I know better, so he needs to ask me about everything!). I believe this has also got to do with the prevailing social conditioning that tells us giving too much freedom is dangerous, and it is important to be able to control! However, in doing so, we don’t realize what we are losing out on. From my personal experience I have seen the benefits of setting people free. Of course one will need to have tracking and monitoring mechanisms in place as a supervisor, so as to ensure one sticks to the overall organization mandate. However, as supervisor one needs to take a call on the extent of monitoring really needed, and one also needs to work towards making his teammates autonomous to the extent possible. The factors one needs to consider are whether the person has completely aligned with the organization culture and way of working, whether he has the requisite skill levels and confidence to take on the role independently and whether the basic relationships are in place with stakeholders, and that is the time to set them free. I have seen such team members soar and express their creativity and express themselves freely, and in doing so they have grown as professionals as well as individuals as well as put in high performances within the organization framework, isn’t that what all of us should want? And this is not to mention the sheer joy and satisfaction one gets seeing the above take place. Among the many benefits of setting people free, a very crucial one to the organization and team is the sheer number of good ideas people come up with, and we all know the execution buy-in is the highest if the idea comes from the person himself or herself. Of course, we will need to take a call regarding whom to set free, and when. How we do it is also equally crucial. There are also certain high risk jobs which would still require a constant supervision across all levels, purely given the complexity, job demands and high stakes involved. This approach may not also work for everyone, as this assumes that the other person doesn’t have any will issue, and has genuine intent on doing well. However, I have a belief majority of employees want to do well for themselves, and value freedom. This is also a journey for everyone involved as different supervisors may have varying confidence levels and the “freedom threshold” might be different and may require more handholding for some than others. But the more we can do this and the more people can be made autonomous (within the overall framework), the more organizations will gain, productivity will be likely to go up and attrition tackled, to whatever extent.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Simplicity-The Sehwag Way!

In his book Simplicity, Edward De Bono talks about how needlessly complex modern life has become, what with super-complex gadgets, smartphones (literally meaning you need to be smart to use them!), sundry electrical and electronic goods that come with manuals looking like rocket science equations, smart TVs and cars and what not! In fact he advocates an international “simplicity movement”, that includes setting up of a simplicity institute et al. While many of us may disagree with the extent of complexity in our lives and may debate to what extent this needs a thought, there is no doubt that all of us could do with a little bit of de-cluttering of our lives and minds, and make our lives a wee bit less complex so as to enable us to unearth our full potential and live stress-free, happy and fulfilling lives. No one epitomizes, or has epitomized simplicity as much over the last decade and half as a certain Virender Sehwag- that freak of nature, that one-in-a-generation cricketer and bender of set rules- he answers to all those descriptions and more, but perhaps his biggest impact on thinkers to come will extend far beyond cricket and organized sport, it will lead into territories of the mind, and will embody the fact that simplicity and clutter-free approach can take one places, and enable one to even go beyond boundaries that our minds, latent capabilities and our social and professional circles set for us. Sehwag announced his retirement this week, and while it was along expected lines, and does make one sad remembering all his cavalier knocks against top attacks around the world, it is also a good occasion to take a peek at his approach and understand where it all came from. There were occasions wherein he has let us take a look into his thinking pattern. When asked what he thinks about when facing a bowler, he had famously replied “see ball, hit ball”- a term which has moved into folklore now, and may well be used in future to denote a certain brand of irreverence and uncluttered thinking. Think of all the seemingly ridiculous things he has done- dispatching the first ball of a test for four, scoring run-a-ball triple hundreds, hitting a six while on 297, the list is endless. His record is also phenomenal for someone deemed a slogger when he burst onto the international scene, and one who wasn’t technically as gifted like a Tendulkar or as solid as a Dravid. It defies all conventional logic and confounded critics and experts alike, and therein lies the great success of his theory, or thinking if you like. It was not that he didn’t think, in fact, his planning was surprisingly effective and intelligent, whether it be targeting an opposition bowler on the field, or unsettling a team with his candid comments in the press conferences, but even that part of his rarely ventured into over-analysing, it was simple goal setting and sharp execution, and being in the moment. He had mastered the art of simple thinking- to the extent that he had successfully removed all self-doubts, all needless worrying which most of us are prone to, by creating anxiety-inducing situations in our minds, it was almost as if he had eliminated the “what if” question from his mind, and this, in a way, had liberated him. It set him free to chase impossibility, cause as they say, impossible is only in the mind, and the only hurdles we have in chasing our goals are the ones we create for ourselves. In removing all that, he, in a way, was free to paint his own canvas, which he did with great joy and elan. Life, really, is quite simple, if we can strip it down to its basics. It’s ultimately about being healthy and happy- yes, that simple, if you really think about it. Formal education while creating our bases and foundations also does introduce formal thinking bound by conventional ideas of what is possible and what’s not, which in turn adds to the clutter in our minds, and introduces us to conventional notions of success and expectations, adding to our stress and dissatisfaction levels. What use is all of it if we aren’t healthy and happy at the end of it all, really? Thus, strangely enough, a rustic man playing cricket offers us some simple idioms to follow in life, most of it unknowingly, I presume! De-clutter your mind, plan simple and effective goals with sharp execution, be in the moment, believe in yourself and your ability to do the impossible, and most importantly, have truckloads of fun while the journey lasts, and spread some cheer around while you are at it!