Even a brick wants to be something!

Pyramids At Gizah (Source Wikipedia)I got a call from an acquaintance the other day. After exchanging pleasantries, she got straight to the point. Her organization has an employee recognition program where the top performers are rewarded each in a grand town-hall gathering attended by everyone in the company.

But now she had a problem – the CEO had attended some engagement conference was ‘now bugging her’ to change their recognition program to ensure that every single employee was touched at least once a quarter by the program. ‘You are in all this “engagement business” right? Tell me how to make that happen without diluting the message.’ she ranted, clearly upset at having what she clearly thought was an absurd project – a whim of the CEO.

Now that I was in the ‘engagement business’ (as she put it) and the lady was looking for a quick fix over the phone I gave her a brief explanation of how she might consider thinking about each employee as an individual, and not just a team-member subsumed within a group classification. And then I made the mistake of quoting Pink Floyd, and told her – you know nobody wants to be another brick in the wall.

The line went quiet.

A few seconds later, she comes back on and says ‘Look, I do read your blog posts. Don’t give me that brick in the wall line. Let’s be candid – some of the guys in the company are just that – bricks! They want to be hidden in the wall. They don’t want to stand out. Now how do I engage with them? How do I motivate them in the absurdly short time frame my CEO wants me to?’

Now it was my turn to go quiet.

‘Are you there?’ her voice crackled over the line.

‘Louis Kahn said – Even a brick wants to be something.’ I told her.

More silence.

Taking advantage of the situation, I forwarded her link to the scene of the lecture Harrelson gives his students in the movie ‘The Indecent Proposal’. I haven’t heard back from her since. Maybe she got the message or maybe she thinks I am no good at this ‘engagement business’ but I stand by what I told her.

If as a leader you feel stuck when deciding the engagement strategy for your employees, you need to step back and ask yourself a very fundamental question – ‘Do you truly feel that every single one of your employees is worth the time, cost and effort that it will take to engage them?’ Remember, every single one of those people has ambitions, aspirations and capabilities, even the ‘bricks’. All you need to do is, think of a creative way to make those ‘bricks’ in your organization a part of something awesome.

Remote Working and Employee (dis)Engagement?

Remote_Working_“WFH!” came the terse reply from an engineer I had asked for a time to meet up and go over a rather tricky problem. The engineer in question worked for a large telecom company and I was then working for an IT services firm where “working from home” was severely frowned upon. Today that large telecom company is defunct and the IT services firm is a giant in its space. The flexibility of working from anywhere is pretty high on employee’s opinion of perks that a company can give to engage with them better. But increasingly companies seem to be turning ‘off’ that option – what gives?

With a quick hat tip to the near mandatory mention of Merissa Meyer’s decision to drastically curb working from home privileges of employees at Yahoo!, with a nod to the decision of Best Buy to follow suit I point towards Unilever which has over 58% of its 171,000 workforce working from ‘where they want, when they want.’ and companies like Automattic Inc (of WordPress fame) and Basecamp (formerly 37 Signals) that have a heavily (near 100%) distributed workforce. In fact the founders of Basecamp wrote a book ‘REMOTE: office not required’.

Research is increasingly pointing towards two key aspects of remote working that drive (or dampen) employee engagement. (a) The kind of work that the employee is doing (b) The time duration for which the employee has been working remotely away from her team members. Gallup research, in its State of the American Workplace report finds that among employees who never work remotely only 28% are engaged whereas that number shoots to 35% among people who spend 20% of their time remotely. But the trend is one of diminishing returns with the percentage of engaged employees falling to 29% for the set that works more than 50% of their time remotely.

Let’s break that down by taking a closer look at the most commonly mentioned pros and cons of remote working.


  1. A high degree of flexibility: working from home (or close to home) allows the employee to plan in personal activities into what would otherwise be ‘office hours’. Taking a sick child or parent to the doctor, getting some repair work done, or dealing with some government agency tend to be most common activities employees do in ‘working hours’ when they are not at office.
  2. Better use of time (and less cost): when your travel is a few feet from the bedroom to the living room, savings in the time wasted in traffic jams and fuel cost savings are immediate and easily quantifiable.
  3. Fewer interruptions from co-workers: Employees who support working remotely point to the fact that it is easier for a co-worker to amble over to ones desk and interrupt than it is to interrupt on chat/email/phone. This, the supporters say, lets them work more efficiently and also plan their tasks better.


  1. Lack of work/life balance: One of the usual complaints from employees is that when they spend too much time working remotely, or are working remotely just because they don’t feel like driving to the office, the virtual wall between work and personal life breaks down quickly. Eventually there is a visible drain on productivity as family members/friends get used to seeing one around the whole day and personal tasks (like dusting, grocery shopping) start finding their way into working hours.
  2. Lack of face-to-face interactions (and aha! Moments): This is the most common argument against working remotely (and indeed the one that Merissa Meyers used). Many managers feel that creativity and camaraderie get affected when team members work remotely and hardly see each other. Vint Cerf (regarded as one of the fathers of the internet), now Google’s Vice President and chief Internet evangelist says “We had people participating in teams, [and] they would almost never see each other face to face. Often they were in different time zones, which meant they had to work harder to stay in sync…So we started recompiling groups to make them, if not co-located, at least within one or two time zones of one another so that it was more convenient to interact.”(Quote from reference a)
  3. Heavy dependency on technology: The tools that let teams collaborate remotely also seem to create a lock-in in terms of the investment and the privacy needed to function effectively. Try having a Skype conversation with your manager with your kids watching TV in the room and the slow ‘faux’ broadband connection that your service provider has given you.

So should we start writing eulogies about remote working?

Not yet. All the literature and anecdotes about remote working and its advantages and pitfalls bring us back to the two factors that seem to govern the utility (and efficacy) of working remotely.

Company Culture plays an important role: Distributed teams are effective only when the tasks each person needs to do has been planned well and communicated clearly. If the managers can assign tasks/goals effectively and get out the way then this format can definitely succeed (Automattic believes very strongly in this approach). Understandably the distributed approach will fail in companies where planning is poor and/or there is a centralized and bureaucratic approach to decision making.

It should be the employee’s decision: The first fact that a company should recognize when trying to engage with employees is to recognize that each one of them is unique! Some people prefer to have a physical separation between their home and workplace. Others like to come in a few days to connect and then work alone to meet deadlines. And still others are most efficient when they work alone only. This will then boil down to the kind of work she is doing, her discipline to separate work and personal tasks, self motivation and the time/cost benefits of working from home. The choice should be up to the employee and the sheer flexibility it offers in times of illness or other important work is a strong motivator for employees.

Vint Cerf sums it up best, “There’s a limit to the utility of remote work … You’re seeing a positive response up to a point because people see that flexibility as a benefit, and then beyond that, you start to have less utility. So it’s not a black-and-white situation.(Quote from reference a)

References and Acknowledgements:

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

(a) Can People Collaborate Effectively While Working Remotely?, Gallup Business Journal, (b) Telecommuting Likely to Grow, Despite High-Profile Defections, SHRM, (c) How WordPress Thrives with a 100% Remote Workforce, HBR Blog Network, (d) Remote Working: Who’s Right?, Forbes.

126 Slides

250px-Yin_and_Yang.svgThis has been around for some time now (5mn+ views) and has been much praised (Sheryl Sandberg has called it one of the most important documents ever to come out of Silicon Valley)

No jazz. No sounds. No animation.

Just 126 Slides on how Netflix transformed itself by a no-nonsense walk-the-talk approach to building an amazing culture and nurturing talent.

Understated. Mostly common sense. No claims of “thought-leadership”. If you haven’t seen the deck, drop everything and see it now!

Webinar: Social Learning, A relevant approach to making it happen (22 Feb, 11am)


Key Topics Covered:

  • Social Learning– Need to know or Good to know?
  • · Top three trends of Social Learning – 2014
  • · Social Learning – Means or End?
  • · Social Learning is only for techies – Not really!
  • · Connect, Create & Brand!

The Speaker:

Mr Alok Narain (Executive Vice President, Quatrro Global Services)

The time:

February 22, 2014 at 1100hrs.

Registration required. To register please use the link below:


‘kwench Author Connect (15 Feb, 1100 hrs)

AuthorConnect_Feb15_LibraryBanner_JustKidding_BookCover_Saturday mornings are usually the time for a late-start, a hot cup of coffee and that much-ignored book that you haven’t found time to finish.

This Saturday get your coffee and stretch your legs out on the sofa and meet up with an author!

Anirban Das talks about his first book, the joy (and pain) of writing one with a full time job and will also answer your questions in the Feb ’14 ‘kwench Author-Connect webcast.

Advance registration is required. To register for this session of Author Connect please click [here].

Take a sneak peek at what the book is all about:

And some sample chapters [here]

Flow ~ Just go with it!

ID-100224553Remember those days when you are just so immersed in work that you forget about everything – the irritating co-worker who is constantly talking on the phone (loudly!), the drone of the air-conditioner, even your lunch? Those are the days you were in what psychologists now refer to as a state of ‘flow’. Artists, composers are most often seen referring to a state of flow – at times when they have created some of their best work. Of course the years of practice to gain the required expertise for the task is a given. Its an almost universally accepted rule of thumb that about 10 years of deep immersion in a domain/subject is required before one can achieve the required expertise to make a significant contribution or improvement.

But even if you aren’t a maestro writing a new symphony there are moments when you just do brilliant work and write a piece of code, or make an outstanding creative for the marketing campaign. ‘Flow’ is where we would all like to be when we are doing our work – in an enlightened state, churning out the very best we are capable of creating!

So how would you know if you are in ‘in the flow’?  There are six factors that scientists identify as contributing to the state of flow (I am sure you will recognize that you feel all or most of them):

  1. intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. merging of action and awareness
  3. a loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. a sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  5. a distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
  6. experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding

And in case you think all this reminds you of the state after five hours of binge TV watching on Sunday, that’s not flow! Passive activities don’t put you in a state of flow. In fact research has shown that people can process only about 126 bits of information per second. Having a conversation takes ~40bits/second so when you are watching a movie on TV, a large part of your processing power is already gone. (So much for the myth of multitasking.)

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (last name pronounced Chick-sent-me-high-ee”) is widely recognized as the ‘architect of the notion of “flow”‘ and he refers to the notion of flow as:

Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.

So how does one create the environment that promotes the state of flow?

Flow theory postulates three conditions that have to be met to achieve a flow state:

(1) One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task

(2) The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows him or her to adjust his or her performance to maintain the flow state.

(3) One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and his or her own perceived skills. One must have confidence that he or she is capable to do the task at hand.

300px-Challenge_vs_skill.svgMihaly published a graph in 1997 which depicts the relationship between the perceived challenges of a task and the perception one has of one’s skills. The state of flow is more likely to occur when  the task to be done is a higher-than-average challenge and the individual has above-average skills. That is where the manager has to play to her role in clearly defining goals and matching the tasks to the strengths (actual and perceived) of her team members.

In 2013, Owen Schaffer broke down the prerequisites for entering a state of flow in the white-paper titled ‘Crafting Fun User Experiences: A Method to Facilitate Flow’ as follows:

  1. Knowing what to do: Goals are set clearly and communicated clearly to the employee.
  2. Knowing how to do it: The tasks allocated are matched with the competency of the employee to whom the task is allocated.
  3. Knowing how well you are doing: Frequent feedback on the progress against the expected outcomes of the tasks gives a sense of progress and keeps up the motivation levels.
  4. High perceived challenges: A feeling of a fairly high (but not impossibly high) challenge motivates the employee to put in extra effort to achieve the goal since it gives a sense of achievement – of having done something worthwhile.
  5. High perceived skills: The feeling that skills required to perform the task are perceived as high (not ordinarily available) gives an impetus to the employee.
  6. Freedom from distractions: This is where the manager contributes by ensuring that the employee can focus fully on the task allocated without constantly being distracted with lots of other activities/responsibilities.

And saving the best for the last: Here’s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi himself, giving a talk about the notion of flow at TED.

References and Acknowledgements for this post:

Flow (psychology), Wikipedia, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Positive psychologist, TED profile, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness, TED Talks, Go with the Flow, Wired, 

Image 1, Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, Image 2: Source: Wikipedia

Week#6: [Book of the Week] Happiness at Work


The Art of Happiness at Work’ written by HH the Dalai Lama and David Cutler, released in 1998 explored questions like “Where does work fit in to our overall quest for happiness?” and “To what degree does work satisfaction affect our overall life satisfaction and happiness?” The book was deeply rooted in Buddhist principles, especially that of “right livelihood”.

The goodreads description of the book captures the layers and depth of this book very well.

The discussion appears simple, if not obvious, at first, but upon closer scrutiny, the Dalai Lama’s profound wisdom and sensitivity emerges. For the Dalai Lama, basic human values such as kindness, tolerance, compassion, honesty, and forgiveness are the source of human happiness.

Throughout the book, he illustrates with clear examples how bringing those qualities to bear on work-related challenges can help us tolerate or overcome the most thorny situations. Recognizing that not all problems can be solved, the Dalai Lama provides very sound advice. The authors urge balance and self-awareness and wisely state, “No matter how satisfying our work is, it is a mistake to rely on work as our only source of satisfaction.”

And now Srikumar Rao has come out with his book ‘Happiness at work’ along the same line of thought, and tries to help shift your perspective and “learn the vital wisdom necessary to achieving a joyful, successful life as you define it through greater resilience and a strong inner core.”

35 short succinct chapters with titles like ‘Don’t stick a label on it’ and ‘Let it go – babies do!!’ make this book very readable.

And here is an excerpt from the book

We rate it a 3.5/5 on content and 4/5 on readability.

Get it now [‘kwench Members only]

Annual Performance Reviews – All Noise, No Signal

Performance_Review_Back in university when I was busy studying communication theory, the one thing we obsessed over was the SNR or Signal-to-Noise ratio.

The professor in charge of teaching us the nuances of what was quite a difficult topic, used to rate the pop-quizzes he gave us on a range of zero to one in increments of 0.1. He gave one to answers that got to the point correctly with little or no fluff (‘Maximum Signal and little noise’ as the prof said) and zero to those that beat around the bush and got no where in particular (‘All Noise, No Signal’). Most of us, unsurprisingly, clustered around 0.5.

Years later, I ran into my professor again. Now retired, he was more chatty that he ever was in the classroom and we got reminiscing about those much dreaded pop-quizzes. “I have a confession,” he said, laughing out loud, “there was far too much garbage for me to read through in those answer sheets you guys handed in. Very little Signal and lots of noise I used to actually read only a very few, and then just handed out those marks based on what I expected the student to write. And since nobody ever challenged me, and I got the bell curve of grades fitted out perfectly, it worked out just fine.” My jaw dropped! I spent years thinking I was just hopeless and didn’t really get antenna theory and radio signal propagation. I couldn’t have imagined that the forced bell-curve fitting would affect me even as a young student.

Anyway, coming back to the present day. Yet another ‘financial’ year is coming to an end, and very soon HR teams in most organizations will get busy preparing for that annual carnival called ‘Performance Reviews.’

Here’s what typically happens:

HR gives managers over a month to finish appraisals for their teams and sends multiple reminders. On paper there seems to be enough time to finish the process. With several other priorities vying for the manager’s time, appraisals gets pushed to the back of the list everyday and nobody ever gets around to spending the planned few hours with every employee.

So now, on the last day before the badly-designed, overtly-complicated HRM software with a few dozen fields to be filled, closes the appraisal process, the HR team resorts to hounding managers to finish appraisals before the deadline. ‘Do it or face the wrath of the Corporate Office’ the HR head threatens, out of desperation when he sees the dismal percentage of teams that have completed the process.

The naked threat works, with hours to go, all client work comes to grinding halt and team-members and managers reluctantly get down to the task of completing their appraisals. The manager now has to evaluate thirty odd people in a few hours, pulls out the goal sheet setup an year ago, he goes “Hmm….lets see now…” And soon its out with data and in with the subjective, the bias and the perceptions. (There’s that bell-curve to comply with.)

Understandably most employees see this as a futile exercise since its is very rare that tasks and goals laid out a year ago would be relevant now. Chances are very high that the employee actually worked on something very different at several points along the way, doused a few dozen crisis situations during the year, came up with a couple of innovative ideas that may or may not have been implemented, put in hundreds of hours of overtime to make up for inefficiencies or just plain bad planning. And in the few minutes he has with the manager while being ‘appraised’, the employee feels threatened. He has to secure his next year’s pay based on what transpires in the next few minutes.

Annual performance reviews are a mind-numbing exercise that most employees in the corporate world go through each year. And mind-numbing is apt! Research has shown that when a person is threatened, activity diminishes in certain parts of the brain. David Rock, author of “Your Brain at Work” says when that happens, “people’s fields of view actually constrict, they can take in a narrower stream of data, and there’s a restriction in creativity.”

Critical feedback doesn’t quite work the way its assumed:

Jena Mcgregor, in her recent article in The Washington Post, points to research by psychologists at Kansas State University, Eastern Kentucky University and Texas A&M University where they studied how people respond to critical feedback they receive in an appraisal of the work done in the year.

The assumption was that people who are motivated to learn things on their own would welcome the critical feedback and use it to improve their work. Apparently not!

The study was based on conclusions of a prior study which concluded that people aspire to reach their goals in one of the following three ways:

  1. They try to prove their competence at work and get positive feedback.
  2. They withdraw from tasks where they might fail and avoid negative feedback.
  3. Focus on the learning and developing of their skills.

Obviously people who fall into the first two categories, didn’t take kindly to negative feedback in their performance reviews. But to the surprise of the researchers even those with a strong learning focus didn’t quite like the negative feedback.

When one considers all the cost and effort that HR (and the entire organization) puts into the annual performance review process, it would almost seem an utter waste of all that time and money.

Here’s the wrap up of how the annual performance review process ‘performs’ :

  • Based on the research mentioned above, it seems that what is intended to be a constructive and helpful discussion quickly falls apart when the appraisees hear critical feedback. (Even for those who have a strong focus on learning)
  • In a previous article, Jena points out that Leadership advisory firm CEB’s research found that two-thirds of the employees who are rated as the firms top performers are in fact not.
  • CEB research shows that managers feel conventional reviews only generate a 3- to 5% improvement in employee performance.
  • Only 23% of the HR professionals surveyed by CEB for their research study felt that their review process was satisfactory.

All signs point to the futility of the once-a-year performance review and yet we continue to persist with the ‘established way’. Come April-May and management is shocked when the resignations come pouring in.

As I have said in a previous post on this blog, It’s time to move on!

References and Acknowledgements:

Study finds that basically every single person hates performance reviews, Jena McGregor, The Washington Post;

The corporate kabuki of performance reviews, Jena McGregor, The Washington Post

Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, David Rock, ISBN-13: 978-0061771293

Image courtesy of  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Increase the shadow of the future (among other things)

Before you hand out the badges and thank-you’s to all your hard working employees this week (You do engage with them, don’t you?), take a pause and think if you might actually be doing it all wrong!

Yes you should recognize (and reward) your employees for the hard work they do, for putting in exemplary performances but then again – are they doing too much simply because you haven’t done your job right? As business grow larger and more complex, managing that complexity correctly is also key to employee engagement (and therefore success, profit and everything good that flows from it)

In a very interesting talk Yves Morieux offers six rules for ‘smart simplicity’

1. Understand what your people do

2. Reinforce integrators

3. Increase the total power that people have to take decisions

4. Extend the shadow of the future: Here he talks about how people can be motivated to do a better job when they appreciate the future impact their work has. He gives the example of an automotive company which was struggling to control its warranty budget. They hit on an innovate idea and told their design engineers that once the car they were designing hit the market in three years time, they would all be moved to the after sales network and be put in charge of the warranty budget.  As he puts it “Much more powerful than 0.8 percent variable compensation”

5. Increase reciprocity

and finally

6. Reward those who cooperate and punish those who don’t

Do see the whole talk. The 12 odd minutes might just change your entire approach to business strategy.

Rewards that go boink! (or the folly of cash as an incentive)

Money_Trap_Mark Hanna:   The name of the game, move the money from your client’s pocket into your pocket.
Jordan Belfort:   But if you can make your clients money at the same time it’s advantageous to everyone, correct?
Mark Hanna:   No

(Dialogue from the movie ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, 2013)

I have an article on how to ‘Engage the employee with the right reward’ up on People Matters where I continue to advocate the need for companies to find the right strategy towards rewarding their employees – doling out cash bonuses just doesn’t cut it.

This post however, is more about what I left out of that article (thanks to word-count limits and the need to stay focused on the theme). At the very beginning of the article I mention in passing how the financial collapse of 2008 exposed the flaw of a cash-bonus-linked-to-sales strategy. What I did not write about was the erosion of trust that the greed of a few caused. And lets fact it – this is true about any industry, not just banking. There are plenty of examples in other sectors like call-center employees cutting short or worse hanging up on customers, because their variable pay was linked to number of calls attended rather than issues successfully resolved, engineers using short-cuts to get automobile products out faster without adequate testing or known flaws leading to catastrophic failures or in some cases deaths.

The death spiral for the company arising out of perverse incentive structures is actually quite simple:

Wrong incentive structure -> Incorrect actions by employees -> Short term spike in sales/output->A select few get rich on commissions/bonus->Medium Term/Long Term problems come home to roost->Best case – the company/product brand takes a hit, Worst case company goes belly-up.

Jordan Belfort:   My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26 I made $49 million dollars which really pissed me off because it was 3 shy of a million a week. – (Dialogue from the movie ‘The Wolf on Wall Street’)

Pre-2008 some bankers just went (massively) overboard in pushing their banks hurtling down that spiral and got the whole industry in a mess since everybody ended up doing the same shenanigans to get massive bonus payouts.

Joseph Stiglitz in his excellent article ‘In No One We Trust’ talks in depth of this erosion of trust and says

“…We had created a system of rewards that encouraged short-sighted behavior and excessive risk-taking. In fact, we had entered an era in which moral values were given short shrift and trust itself was discounted.

… Bank managers and corporate executives search out creative accounting devices to make their enterprises look good in the short run, even if their long-run prospects are compromised.”

So do we take the money-is-root-of-all-evil approach and pay people in food coupons? No. Absolutely not, but neither can leadership of companies afford to take the ‘lazy’ route to establishing a rewards strategy but just resorting to cash payouts as a percentage of profit/sales/top-line. (Remember Enron anyone? Even as the company was imploding, its executives were rewarded with large bonuses for meeting specific revenue goals.) The problem here is not only the flawed rewards structure, but something much deeper. Something for which the whole organization exists in the first place – the very raison d’etre.

The real challenge for leadership in establishing a rewards strategy – goals:

Before you worry about ‘how to reward employees’, the greater challenge is in establishing ‘what’ you are rewarding them for. “Organizational Goals!” you say and full marks to you. Employees in an organization are working on their individual goals which eventually must meld together to achieve the organizational goal.  Employees at Enron were also being paid to achieve organizational goals but in hindsight it’s obvious those goals were all wrong!

Things can also go horribly wrong when impossible goals are set because, leaders shoot their mouth off or get visions of grandeur. Let’s take a short trip back in time. It’s the late 1960’s. The Ford Motor Company was fast losing ground to more fuel efficient cars the Japanese were cranking out. Lee Iacocca, a very smart man with lots of successful launches to his credit, (and the then CEO of Ford), announced the challenge of producing a new car that would weigh less than 2000 pounds and cost less than $2000 and would be available in the market in 1970. The result: skipped safety checks on the Ford Pinto that led to cars catching fire and eventually resulted in massive law suits.

 So we now realize that organizations have a more fundamental problem – with goal setting. That goal usually filters down from the top – which brings us to an interesting conundrum. Going back to what Stiglitz has to say in his article.

“So C.E.O.’s must be given stock options to induce them to work hard. I find this puzzling: If a firm pays someone $10 million to run a company, he should give his all to ensure its success. He shouldn’t do so only if he is promised a big chunk of any increase in the company’s stock market value…”

 Research has shown that the motivation that people will have to do the right thing or blow the whistle when things are not quite going the way they should is greatly enhanced when they feel they are working for a larger purpose than just monetary gain. When the only incentive one has is money, it tends to create the ‘stretch goal’ trap. Bigger goals – Bigger reward – Bigger bank balance! Forget everything else, all ‘that’ is somebody else’s problem. The ‘Big Whale’ trades, the LIBOR fixing scandal, the recent record fines paid by JP Morgan, Enron, the list just goes on and on.

“Of course, incentives are an important component of human behavior. But the incentive movement has made them into a sort of religion, blind to all the other factors — social ties, moral impulses, compassion — that influence our conduct.” (Stiglitz)

Setting the correct goals is thus fundamental to achieving the desired output from employees. Goals that are too narrow; are too many in number or have an inappropriate time horizon which eventually result in, higher risk taking and unethical behaviour by employees in an attempt to meet those goals.

So how do we set the right goals?

This, dear reader, is the trillion dollar question. The ultimate question of life, the universe and everything – the answer as we all know is 42! There we have it. Problem Solved. :)

With due apologies to Douglas Adams, there is no one correct answer for this. With incorrect incentives, the chances of the goals themselves being set wrongly go up exponentially. Add to that the fact that goals when applied to teams with have varied levels of challenge for its members.

In their Working Paper, ‘Goals gone wild’, Lisa D. Ordonez et al. point this out –

“Perverse incentives can also make goal setting politically and practically problematic. When reaching pre-set goals matters more than absolute performance, self-interested individuals can strategically set (or guide their managers to set) easy-to-meet goals. By lowering the bar, they procure valuable rewards and accolades. Many company executives often choose to manage expectations rather than maximize earnings. In some cases, managers set a combination of goals that, in aggregate, appears rational, but is in fact not constructive. For example, consider a self-interested CEO who receives a bonus for hitting targets. This CEO may set a mix of easy goals (that she is sure to meet) and ‘what the hell’ difficult goals (that she does not plan to meet). On average, the goal levels may seem appropriate, but this mix of goals may generously reward the CEO (when she meets the easy goals) without motivating any additional effort when the goals are difficult.”

Goal setting and the consequent rewards strategy are closely intertwined. Your rewards strategy might be well thought out, meaningful and beautifully executed but if they are being handed out for the wrong goals, it will still be meaningless in the long run. Rather than taking the easy way out of boiling the organizations goals down to the revenue numbers and profit figures of billions of dollars, its time leaders spent more time establishing meaningful goals that are aligned with the long term interest of the organization and all its share-holders.

The alternative of continuing with status-quo on goals and incentives is a scary proposition. Already there are rumblings of real estate and investment bubbles building up in South East Asian economies as a consequence of the Fed tapering. Another large financial shock just might be the proverbial last-straw on the camel’s back. On the positive side, we might get a few more entertaining movies.

References and acknowledgements for this post:

‘In no one we trust’, Joseph E. Stiglitz, NYTimes, 12 December 2013, Goals gone wild: The systematic side effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting, Lisa D. Ordonez and others, HBS Working Paper, 09-083, Image used in this post courtesy of Free Digital Photos.

Join the VLZ Webinar on ‘Leveraging Social Media for Employee Engagement’

VLZ_Jan2014_Mailer_v1_(3)Sign up for the 1st Virtual Learning Zone (VLZ) in 2014 where we will explore the topic of Leveraging Social  Media for Employee Engagement.

To register click here

The Speaker:

Anand PillaiAnand Pillai

Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer,

Reliance Industries Limited.


About the session:

In-house social platforms can help build new approaches to collaboration, co-creation, and act as a crucial tacit-knowledge attractor & collector. Organizations are increasingly using the secret sauce called “Social Media” in different ways to influence employee engagement and dramatically accelerate problem solving, productivity, and innovation.

Businesses bank on “good ideas” and it’s now within every business’s grasp to dramatically accelerate this process using social media. Good ideas will still originate from talented individuals, but now these ideas can be amplified and expanded with remarkable efficiency. Social Media should become a part of your “business as usual” – by employees becoming the voice of your brands – and that’s when you will say you have achieved optimum employee engagement!

Attendee seats are limited. Please register early. Registrations are on a first-come-first-serve basis and will be closed as soon as all the slots are filled.

To register click here

or paste the following URL into your browser:


Webinar ID: 153-194-035

n:gage Challenge #2: The Winning Entry

First things first. Have you taken the (completely anonymous, less-than-10-seconds) ‘kwench 1-Q survey yet? Please take a few seconds to click a couple of radio buttons if you haven’t already. Thanks :)  Here’s the link (https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Kwench1QJan2014)

So now coming to the winning entry for the n:gage December 2013 Challenge (Squeaky Brakes). Congratulations to Chhavi Anand for the best analysis and solution of the case among all the submissions.


Chhavi’s Analysis of the problems with the reward system in Fast Brake:

(Points made by Chhavi are italicized and marked as CA. Plain text is what I have added, as additional comments or notes.)

CA: 1) Individual cash rewards in all geographies; overlooking the fact that the working culture in India(say) where collectivism is popular might not work in Americas(say) where individualism persists.

A very valid point. While making a rewards strategy that spans across multiple geographies, the one-size-fits-all approach often does not work. In many of the Asian cultures, collectivism is seen as a more dominant phenomenon. Things are changing with the impact of globalization and this cultural transition (or muddle as some might say) adds to the challenge of creating a recognition strategy. In a culture where the individual identifies more with the group, rewarding just one person instead of the group might actually have a counterproductive effect.

CA: 2) Giving control of cash to junior manager and team leaders; only top to bottom rewards are designed. There is no peer to peer reward system.

Surveys and research has repeatedly shown that peer recognition is rated far more meaningful and fulfilling than one from superiors. Especially in the knowledge economy appreciation from peers is perceived as more valuable since it goes without saying that the peers truly appreciate the effort or the challenge involved in the solution.

CA: 3) Approval from group presidents; the approval system in rewards might delay the process and lose the charm of reward and recognition.

Right on! Oversight is good, but it should not be crippling. And the moment very tight controls are placed, the fundamental idea behind an engagement initiative gets diluted. The hidden message then becomes ‘we like you, but we really don’t trust you’. Not a very good idea when you are trying to win the trust of your workforce.

CA: 4) Spot recognition; As the name suggests the recognition should be on the spot while the current system is quite opposite. The reward is reaching the deserving employee after one week and cash reward is not taken positively by the employee(as seen by the letter written by Dave). The charm of spot recognition is lost in the time period taken by the reward to reach the employee.

In addition to the delay, the quantum of rewards is another point to be considered. Dave points out that the amount he did get wasn’t much either. The CEO’s desire to reach the maximum amount of people is a good one, but his budget allocation doesn’t follow up on his intentions. You might be better off not giving any cash award with the recognition than appearing as a cheap-skate.

CA: 5) Congratulations Card; It is too formal in rewards system. It does not state the reason behind the reward being given to an employee. Thus it does not serve the purpose of “congratulating”.

True. Recognition has to be personal and reinforced socially to really mean something. A award handed out in a town-hall gets its effect from the fact that the recepient is singled out for the praise and everyone present gets to know about it. The problem though is that town-halls and company-picnics are few and far between events. Luckily technology today provides innovative ways to solve this problem without burning a hole in your pocket.

Chhavi’s proposed solution:

CA: To provide the online platform wherein an employee can be recognized immediately after an achievement. The recognition should not be only from managers/team leaders but also from peers. This prevents favoritism also. The recognition system can be clubbed with the cash rewards subsequently in the process.


This rewards and recognition system will keep the employees motivated. The engineers and sales staff will strive to achieve and break records. As clear from the R&R Budget Details, some budget is not being issued by the managers and if issued, is not redeemed by the employees. There should be proper training/user manual for the rewards and recognition system to be understood and utilized by all the employees in an effective manner.


Join in on the conversation. Leave your congratulations for Chhavi and comments on the solution below.

The n:gage Challenge #2: Squeaky Brakes

n_gage_Post_Header_Dec2013_Important Notes (well, kind of important anyway):

The n:gage Challenge answers should be submitted latest by midnight 29th December 2013. There is no minimum word limit for solutions; it can be just one line or even one word. One of the submissions as advice for Mahesh in n:gage challenge 1, was just two words: ‘Quit – Now!’. While it didn’t win the contest, we were laughing so hard for a very long time. The maximum however is 1000 words. If you hate writing and want to submit a doodled version, an illustration, a mind map, a flow chart – go right ahead. Solutions are solutions.

And now back to the main program: The challenge!

Bhaskar, the HR head of FastBrake was perturbed. He was looking at the MIS of rewards issued and redeemed across various offices and numbers looked quite bad. If there was any interest from the employees, in the awards that were being handed out, it was not evident. And add to that, the email that he just received from a service engineer based in London.

Dear Sir,

I am writing to thank you for the wonderful initiative of spot recognition that has been rolled out across the organization. Last week, I helped out one of our customers with a rather tricky problem they were facing with our ball bearings and my manager handed me an envelope today.

The card was nice I must say. But may I humbly point out that £5 doesn’t really buy much these days. Buying a pint of beer for oneself at the pub is hardly a celebration, wouldn’t you agree? I do appreciate the gesture though.

Yours Sincerely,


Bhaskar took a sip of his coffee and sat back in his chair. Last month his CEO, Natarajan had approved the largest Rewards and Recognition budget in the history of the company with the mandate that at-least 60% of the staff – globally- should be covered. The company had engineers and sales staff, spread across the Americas and Europe but a bulk of the workforce was based in Chennai.

Bhaskar and his team had decided that in the interest of time and ease of implementation they would hand out cash rewards. Each reward irrespective of the amount would be accompanied by a card with Congratulations printed on it and a printed signature of the CEO. The organization budget was split and allocated to the respective group presidents. They would in turn allocate the budgets to their managers, who would hand out their senior managers based on their requirements. Natarajan’s requirement of covering, a minimum of 60% of the team was clearly spelt out – the aim was not to give big amounts to a select few but to cover the maximum possible workforce.

The president of finance had pointed out to Bhaskar, that giving control of cash to junior managers and team leaders would be an invitation for scams. ‘This entire do-goody warm-fuzzy fad stuff Natarajan and you want is fine Bhaskar – it’s your call. In my time, when people worked hard, they got a bonus at the end of the year.  But remember when it comes to money – there will always be rotten apples’ said Swaminathan, the 55 year old who controlled finance in the company with an iron-fist.

Managers would take the approval of their group presidents for each award and then hand it out. To prevent problems, Swaminathan insisted that employees who received the award also sign a receipt, which would be maintained for accounting purposes and ‘prevent any smart-aleck from gaming the system.’

Bhaskar took another look at the R&R MIS and wondered what he was going to tell Natarajan in the next status update meeting.

The exhibits:

n_gage_2_FastBrake_Company_Snapshot_n_gage_2_FastBrake_Employeedistribution_n_gage_2_FastBrake_OrgChart_n_gage_2_FastBrake_RnR_BudgetDetails_n_gage_Sample_CongratulatoryCard_Dec2013_Disclaimer: Fast-Brake is a fictitious company and all people, events etc. described in this case are for illustrative purposes only and are not based on any real life company or people.

Your solution:

Write up your advice for Bhaskar in less than 1000 words and send it in before midnight of 29th December.(If you are facing issues in using the form, send in your solution to prashant.john@kwench.in in whatever format you choose: text, image, pdf, ppt et. al. )

As always to be fair to all participants, we will not be answering any individual queries. If you feel some information you need to form your solution is missing from the challenge text, make suitable assumptions. Do remember to clearly mention your assumptions though.

The 10 Best Books of 2013 (Non Fiction)

Top 10 of any genre’ is a very difficult list to come up with. There are books that are legendary for being up there on every Top 10 list for years on end and then there are sales numbers that stores and online book retailers need to worry about (wink wink).

So this year, we decided to take an data driven look at the top 10 Non-Fiction and Fiction books that corporate India liked. The ranking is only for titles published in 2013. Unburdened with such problems as warehouses full of unsold books, we arrived at the ranking based on popularity, rating, and some secret sauce involving return times, likes, book requests and others. So here we go with the first installment of the Top 10 – the Non Fiction titles – listed in reverse order.

#10: Dhandha: How Gujaratis Do Business [Shobha Bondre]

_kwench_NonFiction_2013_10_Forget the fancy business talk, and let’s get all earthy. Dhandha is what it’s all about. A collection of stories about Gujarati businessman around the world who made tons of money doing what seems like unglamorous stuff. Jaydev Patel who sold insurance policies worth $2.5 billion (that’s a b!), Bhimjibhai Patel who founded the Diamond Nagar in Surat,  Mohanbhai Patel who makes collapsible aluminum tubes and oh, was also the former sheriff of Mumbai. The book does a great job of covering the common traits of ambition, the knack for business and the ability for hard work that makes the community successful businessmen. Forget everything else, ‘dhandha ni waat karo!’. The readers just love this book and it opens up our top 10 list.

#9: India’s Biggest Cover-Up [Anuj Dhar]

_kwench_NonFiction_2013_09_This book could almost be in the fiction list. The blurb of the book says that “India’s biggest cover-up”, investigates the Bose mystery and its stranger than fiction subplots like never before. Relying on official records, archival material and information obtained under the freedom of information acts from across the world, the book uncovers a systematic obstruction of justice by the Indian establishment. Author Anuj Dhar piles up, freshly unearthed facts and insights invalidating the air crash theory, supporting the line that, Bose escaped towards Soviet Russia with help of the Japanese. The book dwells at length on the curious case of Bhagwanji, a cigar chomping holy man—who called himself “Dead Man”, was never seen in public but was believed to be Bose by many of his staunch followers. It explodes the myth that, the negative DNA and handwriting tests carried out in government labs disapproved that Bhagwanji was not Bose. The book even tells you of Dead Man’s imagination defying claims—like he secretly participated in the Vietnam war—and assertion that his coming out would spell troubles for India.

We do love a good ol’ conspiracy theory and the book was much in demand soon after launch.

#8: Die Poor or Live Rich: Your Life, Your Choice Secrets to Master Your Money [Snehdeep Fulzele]
_kwench_NonFiction_2013_08_How can book about money not be in the top 10 of corporate India’s reads? The book blurb says, the book helps readers to ‘become the master of money’ and learn to invite abundant money in your life, keep it and grow it. Read the book to find what is stopping you from achieving financial freedom. Along the way get answers to those questions, which puzzle all those who work so hard to earn money – Why will banks never make you rich? Why is inflation poisonous to money? Why should you stay in your own house and not a rented accommodation? Do you need to work harder to earn more money?

#7 Think like Zuck-The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO [Ekaterina Walter]

_kwench_NonFiction_2013_07_Everybody loves Mark (off late anyway, that is).  Users love his product. Employees love him. Investors love him and now the world is waking up to his ‘improbable’ brilliance.

The author has figured out the five principles behind Facebook’s meteoric rice – the five P’s (now that is an ‘improbable’ co-incidence, but hey it’s catchy and easier to remember) : Passion, Purpose, People, Product and Partnerships.

Looking at the popularity of the book, we won’t be surprised if a bunch of future billionaires are already at work on the next big thing.

#6: A Bank for the Buck-The Story of HDFC Bank [Tamal Bandyopadhyay]

_kwench_NonFiction_2013_06_Banks tend to be boring and books about the banks are rarely of interest to people outside the industry. But this book is different (no really). Yes, it has all the usual stuff about the rise of HDFC while several other private banks started around the same time perished. What sets the book apartis a very interesting comparison the author has drawn between, the merger of HDFC bank and Times Bank and a crime drama ‘Rashomon’.  Just like the bank, the book too is among the top on our list.

#5: Work it Out Without a Workout [Vesna P. Jacob]

_kwench_NonFiction_2013_05_With a title like that, this book simply couldn’t be kept off the list! After money health is the next big thing on everybody’s mind. The book busts some of the usual myths about working out and has tips on everything from improving your posture to shedding extra flab without strenuous workouts. The author says, you can achieve it all and that too without going to a gym. With easy to follow exercises, even while driving, traveling, or working, now you can look good while having fun at the same time. (Bliss! I am going to read this right after all the parties on New Year’s Eve when I will need to lose a few dozen pounds)

#4: Narendra Modi-The Man, the Times [Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay]


Keeping in with the times, there is a lot of interest in Narendra Modi – the man who many believe will be the next Prime Minister of India. Much has been written about the man, and this book is one more such attempt.

The book traces the rise of Modi from his younger days of sloganeering and tea selling to his current interests in kurtas, designer pens and watches.

#3: The Test of My Life from Cricket to Cancer and Back [Yuvraj Singh]


We love cricket and We love comebacks. Put the two together and you have a book that’s much in demand. The book provides its readers with insights into the most traumatic period in the life of cricketer Yuvraj Singh, as he struggled to come to terms with the fact that he was afflicted with cancer.

Filled with varied emotions, doubts, and fears, the book is a captivating story of how a human being can fight to survive, even in the toughest of circumstances. Go Yuvi Go! We love ya!


#2: Lean in-Women, Work and the will to Lead [Sheryl Sandberg]

_kwench_NonFiction_2013_02_The must read book of 2013!  ‘Lean In’ is the outcome of a TED conference held in 2010 which revolved around the discussion that, there are very few women in leadership positions. Sandberg tells women that, they would never receive the same recognition as men, unless they are willing to make certain changes in order to prevent stagnation. She further throws light on the, current state of women in the corporate arena of America. She tells women to sit at the table, have faith in themselves, and shoot for the top.  Sandberg also opens up to the readers by penning down her insecurities in college, and the time she cried in the presence of her boss. She also recounts the time when she had to negotiate her pay with Facebook. Lean In: Women, Work And The Will To Lead is a must-read for women who desire to overcome, their pre-conceived ideas and anxieties to achieve the success they always wanted.

Readers loved this book and the only surprise we had is that it was at #2 in the rankings. And that is because …

#1 is Business Sutra : A Very Indian Approach to Management [Devdutt Patnaik]

The book introduces readers to the ‘Indian’ way of management – far away from the goal-oriented, shareholder focused approach espoused by the western style management. The author uses stories, rituals and symbols from Indian mythology to provide a more subjective approach to doing business. Instead of chasing wealth it tells us how to attract wealth. The book has 145 sutras, explained in great detail which establishes the linkage between business and belief.

An original and radical book (as the blurb says), Business Sutra is top of the list on our Top 10 of 2013 in the Non-fiction category!

Keep tuned for the part 2 of this post which will list the Top 10 of Fiction for this year! Till then, happy reading!

References for this post: Book blurbs of the books listed.

Sorry, but we are different!

Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

‘Yes but… we are different’ is an excuse I hear quite often when managers are confronted with the challenge of making radical changes. (or sometimes even not so radical ones)

A typical conversation about focusing on increasing collaboration and lowering barriers revolves around these lines:

Yes, we know collaboration is key to innovation, but…

– We are different

– We are unique

– Our teams work differently

– We are in a different marketplace. In fact we are the market creators there is no-one else

– We recruit only the very best and you know they all have egos so they won’t collaborate.

– We are so large that anything remotely transformational is difficult to execute.

And the list goes on.

In my book there are three types of organizations when it comes to getting their employees working with each other: the ones that don’t know what works, those who know and don’t do anything about it, and then there are the IBM’s of the world.

IBM is large (huge actually), they hire some really smart people (arguably smart is an understatement) and they ‘get it’. With Employee engagement being the critical area of focus, IBM isn’t letting its size come in the way of building ‘a more egalitarian workplace where employees feel they have more control over decisions’.

The company’s “Corporate Crowdfunding” system is an excellent platform to stimulate innovation and get small impactful projects off the ground without having to deal with permissions and approvals. The platform is all about collaborative innovation, which lets its 430k+ workforce spread over 170 countries connect and collaborate on small projects.  (Read more about the project at the BBC Capital Story: Sparking Innovation from the Bottom Up)

For all the “Yes…But…” managers who feel they need a CEO approved grand strategy and mega budget to get collaboration and innovation going, it’s time for a re-think.

n:gage November 2013 – The Challenge!




It was 8 am on bright sunny day in Bangalore, the city which FastVid called home. Mahesh was in early, in-spite of a late night conference call with his Sales heads in Singapore and Los Angeles. In fact it was the call that was bothering Mahesh. His company was starting to stagnate. The sales heads had blamed his tech teams for lack of innovation in the solutions they provided their clients anymore. ‘It’s always the same old thing. I don’t have anything worth talking about when I meet prospective clients’ lamented the President of Sales based out of the Los Angeles office. His APAC Sales head pretty much echoed the same sentiment.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mahesh pulled up the latest metrics from all his departments. Everything seemed to be on track – all of them seemed to be in line with expected trajectory to achieve their annual numbers. The targets seemed almost tame, but both his delivery head and R&D head had convinced him that given the present economic climate, expecting anything more would be impractical. His HR head had warned him of an attrition risk if impossible targets were set and as a result bonus payouts were withheld.

Six years ago, FastVid called a tiny room in Mahesh’s three room apartment its office and had a total of three employees who wrote the first version of their path-breaking video compression software. The growth was explosive. Couple of VC funding rounds followed and in just under five years the company had offices in LA, Singapore and Sweden.  In technology there is hardly any time to breathe, yesterday’s poster child was now struggling to deliver innovative new solutions to keep in touch with the fast emerging mobile wave. FastVid had always maintained high standards of recruitment – taking on only the very best of engineers, most of them poached from the large technology giants where this talented bunch felt lost in the large organizational maze. Attrition was almost zero in the first couple of years and then what was a trickle was now definitely a brook. Mahesh had always believed in paying his team atleast 20% more than ‘market salary’ so compensation was almost never a reason mentioned in the exit interview.  What did come up more often than not is that teams at FastVid had become silos –sales teams often were clueless about what R&D was working on. R&D based out of Stockholm was not happy at how development teams in Bangalore implemented the new protocols and algorithms they came up with. His delivery managers were constantly complaining about how engineers just didn’t seem to be interested in thoroughly testing their code. All they seemed to do was write their bit of code and dump it onto others to use without really thinking about the overall product – it was almost every man for himself.

Mahesh swivelled around in his plush leather chair and looked down on the main road leading to the Technology Park where FastVid had its offices. The morning rush-hour traffic was building up. The sunlight bouncing off the windshields of the hundreds of cars inching their way to all the offices clustered around each other in the Technology Park. Technology giants had offices right next to each other here and in each of those glass offices smart engineers were working away, developing technology that could overnight change the market – much like FastVid had done with mobile video when it was founded six years ago.  Mahesh knew that he needed to get innovation flowing in his organization again, but how?

n_gage_MiniCase_Exhibit_A_ n_gage_MiniCase_Exhibit_B_ n_gage_MiniCase_Exhibit_C_

The challenge:

For the next one week you are an advisor to the Mahesh.

Come up with a strategic plan for him to get the teams at FastVid engaged and get them back to delivering innovative solutions.

Write your plan in less than 1000 words and send it in before midnight of 24th November. (If you are facing issues in using the form, send in your solution to prashant.john@kwench.in in a word/text document)

To be fair to all participants, we will not be answering any individual queries. If you feel some information you need to form your solution is missing from the challenge text, make suitable assumptions. Do remember to clearly mention your assumptions though.

What are you waiting for – Mahesh needs your help!

Note: FastVid, Mahesh and the situation used in this challenge are fictional. Any resemblance to people or organizations in the real world is coincidence and not intended.

Are you ready for the ‘kwench n:gage challenge?

'kwench n:gage challenge

The ‘kwench n:gage challenge invites you to present your innovative solution for an employee engagement related conundrum.

On the 18th of November, the challenge will be posted on the ‘kwench blog.
You have till 24th November to send in your proposed solution.

We will select the best solution and publish it on the ‘kwench blog. In addition to the instant fame you get among the top HR leadership of the country you also get shopping vouchers worth Rs 2500 to celebrate the occasion.

So get out your thinking hats, dust off all those cobwebs gathered around the theoretical frameworks you memorized such a long time ago or just put on your spurs and get ready to take on the ‘kwench n:gage challenge 2013.

Stay tuned for more!

Make your job work for you!

Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net.
Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net.

Us and Them / And after all we’re only ordinary men / Me, and you/ God only knows it’s not what we would choose to do (Pink Floyd, Us and Them)

There is a lot of literature out there about how companies should develop strategies on engaging their workforce. (Well, if they want to survive in a competitive marketplace, they better be spending lot of thought on engagement.) But what about the employees – What can we do to get and stay engaged?

First let’s get the “Us” vs “Them” distinction out of the way. Engagement has to be ingrained in the workplace culture and that culture is made by participation from everyone – from the President to the trainee engineer. No hierarchies here – its one flat plane.

So let me reframe the issue as  – what can an individual in the organization do to improve his personal engagement levels?

At the Confucian level of idealism you could find a job you love so that you don’t have to work a day in your life. Great, if you can do it. But let’s be practical – a vast majority of us are not in a position to do exactly what we would love to. So you do the best you can. Find a job that pays your bills, but puts you in a city that you hate. You find a job that’s closer to home, but struggle to keep the bank balance above the minimum requirement the bank imposes on you. You get allocated to a department where there is no intellectual stimulation, but you dare not rock the boat – the economy is down the drain as it is and jobs are scarce. Every single day you groan when the alarm goes off, drag yourself to work and settle down into a spiral that eventually makes you part of the 31% of disengaged employees.

So how do you avoid getting into the disengagement trap?

In one line: Make your job work for you – what you are handed may not be motivating enough, but you always have the powers to turn it into something you love doing.

Here are some tips that might help you get your mojo in the workplace, irrespective of the support levels your organization offers.

Seek out energized and caring work environments:  Try to work in teams where people care about each other’s work and support their colleagues. If you are stuck in a team which just blindly does the daily tasks allocated and are micro managed, it’s hard to feel wanted. If you care about yourself, and really want to contribute to the organization, put in the effort to find teams that have an existing culture of co-operation and empowerment. It’s far easier to join in a team and be a multiplier for the energy levels than, to start off something in a stressed out team. It’s not impossible, just more difficult.  The battle you might have to fight in getting transferred to a team you would rather work with will be far less stressful than coming to work every day when you couldn’t care less.

Write your own JD: There is a job description that the organization or your supervisor sets out to establish your roles and responsibilities, and then there is the one you create for yourself. You can recreate the job to mean infinitely more than what was formally assigned. You can design everything that goes into achieving your goals and targets – you design the equation you have with your co-workers, you design your approach towards opportunities, you design how motivating your cubicle or table will be. Nothing stops you from designing the job to play to your strengths. And when you do that you become more productive. You get noticed. You get more responsibility and more freedom. You redesign some more with greater degree of freedom. The cycle starts all over again and eventually you are doing exactly what you want to do and loving it!

Create your own awards and celebrate small wins: Your organization may or may not have a formal recognition program and even if they have one it might the ancient annual awards setup. That doesn’t have to demotivate you. Set up your own goals. Break your task into small intermediate goals and reward yourself when you meet each one. Document it and track your progress faithfully so you can always see how far your personal progress bar has come.

Don’t get ‘married’ to your boss: Got your attention, didn’t it? I am not taking about personal relationships, but professional ones. Many people feel trapped with a supervisor who they would rather not be working for, but feel guilty about asking to be moved to another team. Why? If you want to make your workday meaningful, you need to have a boss who takes the trouble to understand what you are doing, engage with you and empower you to do your best. If your boss is not doing it, he is not doing his job and by sticking on with him you are doing yourself and the organization a disservice.  You can dramatically improve your motivation levels by seeking out supervisors who you think will bring out the best in you. People sometimes make temporary sacrifices to work with bosses they really want – by taking a lower designation and even a pay-cut. But this is always a short-term blip, because when the employee is putting out her best performance under the new boss it’s just a matter of time before she does far better than she could ever hope to in the previous role.

It’s easy to blame the environment, the organization, the culture, the supervisor, and even your co-workers for your daily blues. Maybe it’s time you took a tiny step back, peeked at the big picture and got going on your own steam rather than waiting for the ‘big bad company’ to fix things for you.

Lower the drawbridge

Castle with moat
Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net.

When a company is out recruiting, the HR is tasked with turning on the charm. Brochures with pictures of colourful ‘fun’ workplaces, happy smiling employees and lists of all kinds of best employer awards the company won, are handed out.

After all the wooing, the candidate decides to sign on, and out comes the ‘standard’ contract – you will not tell anybody about this offer, you will not leave us without a 1 month notice period, you will not work for competitors for several months after leaving, you will not do this, you will not do that, you dare not leave us once you sign on. While you do a double take at the contract, the recruiter smiles and adds “Oh, and did we tell you about the excellent employee engagement policies we follow, with total involvement from the senior leadership, no less – we have some really good consultants, who tell us what to do on engaging our workforce. Paintball wars in the parking lot every fourth Saturday and company picnics every quarter. It’s a riot!”

If you are sure you are a great organization to work for, you are sure you really do everything to engage with your employees, your projects are intellectually stimulating, your policies are realistic and employee friendly, the office culture is ROWE and not command-control, employee engagement is more than lip-service you do to win some award every year then dare to lower the drawbridge.

Do you dare to redraw your employee contract to let people leave when they wish, and join whichever organization they want to and do what they want to.

If you have a truly engaged workforce it doesn’t matter if the door is wide open. If not, filling the moat with legal crocodiles and pulling up the drawbridge won’t protect your crumbling castle – the good ones will leave – It’s just a matter of time.

“Un-fire” your employees – one day at a time.

Un-fire_EmployeesThere sure is a lot of stuff out there about “employee engagement” – 72m search results on Google. ‘Employee retention’ throws up around 12m. Search for ‘Employee Firing’ and you get 12m results again! Employee Hiring throws up a whopping 150m pages. Of course, Google search results are hardly the data point one should be looking for to decide employee engagement strategy, but it’s a good indicator of what people are thinking (and writing) about.

Assuming that you have done a good job of hiring your employees in the first place, engaging them is all about what I call ‘Un-firing’ employees – every single day. A chaotic workplace, lack of goal clarity, insensitive supervisors, indifferent senior management, working in silos with little or no idea of what’s happening around, being clueless about the big picture are all things that contribute to disengaging your employees – the equivalent of firing them a bit at a time. Disengagement in a workplace is like slow poison that throttles and chokes the life out of your organization. It starts at the water-cooler as whispers and finally shows up in your annual results in the form of missed targets and dismal financial performance. What follows is well-known. Projects are missed. Plans go awry. Investors get mad. The stock gets hammered because your competition pulls miles ahead of you. And then you pull out the financial-machetes and start ‘rationalizing the workforce’.

It’s a point I make time and again on this blog and in other forums – disengagement is rarely a result of one big bad experience the employee has. That bad experience you see listed as a possible root-cause in the exit interview form is only the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. It’s the daily dose of small experiences at the workplace that add up. A bad or non-existent engagement strategy results in you ‘firing’ your employees every single day they show up for work.

The final act of leaving is just a formality. If you don’t engage your workforce every single day, they would have mentally switched off and fired you ages before they actually leave.

Image used in this post courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net.

Building a high-energy work environment

_Workplace_Motivation_Usually when people think of an office buzzing with energy with everyone in the ‘zone’ they think of start-ups. Small office, people sitting where they can, cheap furniture, lots of wires criss-crossing the floor from all the machines lying helter-skelter all around. For the record, the first “office” ‘kwench had was a living room and we had one-plastic table and a plastic chair (for guests).

Large offices with cubicle farms, cafeterias, grand lobbies typically evoke mental images of power and a large process oriented machine at work rather than energy.
Good generalizations for stock photography and movie plots, but hardly the reality. The energy you feel in start-ups doesn’t come from sitting on the floor or having doors as desktops, it comes from the motivation levels of those working there. Similarly the fluorescent lighting in the swank offices of a large organization isn’t sucking out the creative energy of the workforce, something else is.

There is a default environment in a young start-up that larger organizations with hierarchies, departments and processes need to consciously implement. The magic-dust that transforms a workplace into a high-energy work environment is, engagement.

Component_Target_In the book Employee Engagement, W Macey et. al, write that there are there are four components (or aspects as some would prefer to call it) held with the glue of engagement, that need to come together – – to enable a creative and motivating work environment. What follows is a slightly modified list.

(a) Employees should have the liberty to engage: ‘But who is stopping them?’ you ask. The answer, is ‘most likely – everything.’ Companies have processes and set rules to ensure that things get delivered on time with the required accuracy and this definitely is a good thing. But it is not the best thing. Employees following set processes and delivering as promised drive customer satisfaction; engaged employees deliver customer delight. But they should have the liberty to do so. The organization should be tolerant of creative solutions and possible failure – a confidence that failure will be treated “fairly”. If deviation from processes is always punished, innovation is unlikely to ever happen in your workplace.

(b) Employees should have the capability to engage: So you set the ground rules in your workplace and encourage the team to go the extra mile. But nothing seems to happen. They seem to be just doing what they have been doing all along! What gives? In order for people to really make a difference they should also have access to the required knowledge/information. If all the information is locked away on a “need-to-know” basis chances are very few will actually “know”.  Once you provide your employees the liberty to engage, support it by creating an open environment where they have access to information, where they get timely and open feedback on their work, and have the confidence that the organization will provide full support with everything they need to meet their goals.

 (c) Employees should have the motivation to engage:  An average employee spends 10-12 of their waking hours at work, add a couple more for getting to work and back. That’s 12-14 hours, of the 18 hours they are awake, away from their family. It’s important that you give them a very good reason to do so. When you provide the liberty and set the ground for capability for employees to engage within the workplace, the onus largely lies on the employee to step up and capitalize on the freedom. To motivate them however, the onus lies on the organization. Multiple surveys have shown that employees are most disengaged because they lack clear and specific goals and timely recognition for work done. From the organization perspective the requirements are clear (and fairly simple). Match the employees to the right roles – provide clear achievable goals – provide an open environment where the information required to deliver results is available – provide timely feedback and recognition.  When people have a sense of belonging and recognition of incremental progress they are making towards a larger, complex goal – motivation levels go up automatically.

 (d) Establish a transparent way of working to enable engagement: Once you have set up the first three layers, you have to enable positive reinforcement through an open and transparent culture. Make recognition public – this has a strong element of positive feedback and also ensures that there is no feeling of favoritism. Enable Peer-recognition and evaluation systems – Peers are usually in the best position to know exactly what work has been done. When the goals are clear, the combined effect of mini-evaluations over a period of time is more powerful and accurate than any detailed annual-appraisal can ever hope to be.  Be tolerant of open networks within the organization – enable a free flow of conversation and be open to constructive criticism. Typically social networks formed for a purpose tend to be focused and self-regulating. Any deviations are usually dealt with by the group without the need for active monitoring by a ‘higher authority’.

Engagement is what enables your employees to “see the big picture” and align their goals with that of the organization. But on a day-to-day basis it’s the work environment that provides the impetus for your employees to engage (or in the other extreme – disengage).

It is tempting to conclude that the onus lies on the senior leadership of an organization to do everything from establishing organizational business targets to driving an open and engaging work-culture to make sure those goals get met. While they have a large role to play, in a dynamic marketplace, waiting for senior leadership to decide every small detail is suicidal. The best way is be open and involve employees’ right from the planning process for establishing the organizations goals/targets for the year and continue to engage them throughout.

At 3M, one the world’s most innovative companies, the HR team provides the tools and processes but it’s the individual managers and supervisors who are in charge of engagement at the employee level. Accountability for establishing a culture of engagement at the workplace is done by embedding engagement into the list of leadership competencies. The company provides managers with engagement scores on company-wide surveys making employee engagement a key strategy to establishing competitive advantage in the marketplace.

References and Acknowledgements:

The “What” and “Why” of Goal Pursuits: Human Needs and the Self-Determination of Behavior, Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan Department of Psychology, University of Rochester; Work Redesign and Motivation, J.Richard Hackman, Driving Performance and Retention through Employee Engagement, Corporate Leadership Council, Employee Engagement, Macey et al, Wiley Blackwell; Creating an engaged workplace, CIPD Report, January 2010.

Image1 and Image2 used in this post courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net.

Mission Impossible – ‘Presenteeism’ Protocol

Disengaged_Gap_The world of banking has a term it dreads – NPA (Non-Performing Assets). These typically refer to loans that are at high risk of default.

Your employees are your most precious assets and their best performance is what you bank on to make the organization thrive. The Towers-Watson Global Workforce Study 2012 surveyed over 32,000 full-time workers across the globe and found that only 35% were highly engaged. The rest?

22% felt they were unsupported.

17% were detached.

And a whopping 26% were disengaged.

If you were a bank with over 25% of your assets at risk, the central bank would be all over you with audits, stress-tests and maybe even cancel your license.

If were a manufacturing firm with 25% of your plants breaking down all the time and hardly producing anything, you would declare the units sick and fix them or close them down.

If you were an airline with 25% of your planes flying practically empty you would reroute, optimize, or shut down the routes.

And yet even though over a quarter of your employees are disengaged, you still hope to meet your financial and business goals without a clear well-thought out employee engagement strategy.  Time to call Ethan Hunt?

References and Acknowledgements

The Towers-Watson Global Workforce Study 2012; Post title inspired from the Mission Impossible movie series; Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net.

Presenteeism: “One central consequent of presenteeism is productivity loss, and scholars have attempted to estimate these productivity numbers. While examining productivity decrements, however, it is implied that losses are measured relative to not having a particular sickness or health issue. Furthermore, in comparison to being absent from a job, those exhibiting presenteeism may be far more productive. Nonetheless, a large study by Goetzel et al. estimated that on average in the United States, an employee’s presenteeism costs or lost on-the-job productivity are approximately $255.” (source: wikipedia)

The amplifying effect of peer-networks

LM741CN AmpYou hate the slow tedious testing process your company has for its blockbuster product. Surely there is a better way to do things. You get onto the company’s new collaboration platform and connect with like minded people across various departments in the company. Discussions around topics of mutual interest start. Ideas for some new software tools to improve product testing get thrown around. One of them really attracts attention. Someone suggests that you collaborate to build a prototype. Others in the company take notice and join in. The concept gets refined continuously. The conversation spreads. Quite a few people are hearing about it. The energy is electric. Everyone is checking their message feed to see what the latest update is.

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Celebrating small wins: Keeping the progress bar moving!

Celebrate_small_Wins_Have you ever felt frustrated, staring at your monitor while a large file downloads from the internet? I guess most of us have at some time or the other and the temptation to keep checking if the file is actually downloading is very high. You just need to know that it’s actually happening!

This is exactly why most smart websites, browsers (or file downloading software) provide percentage-completed progress indicators.  The filling up of the bar gives users a sense of progress (even if its misleading at times). Dr Brad A. Meyers in his paper “The importance of percent-done progress indicators for computer-human interfaces,” points out that “Practical experience and formal experiments show that progress indicators are an important and useful user-interface tool, and that they enhance the attractiveness and effectiveness of programs that incorporate them.”

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How to (not) create an engagement monster

_kwench_Engagement_Monster_Image_1You get an intern over for a few months. Ask her to google “employee engagement strategy” and make a report. She makes a laundry list of things that engaged companies seem to be doing. Borrow 10 techniques each from the top three most engaged companies on the global list that seem easy enough to do – Hand out a few badges, give a few vouchers, put a smiley sticker or two, spam everyone with “Thank-You’s” and voila – engaged employees all around, right?


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“Breaking Things” to engage better. A brave new world?

Facebook LikeYou better walk it / And talk it less you lose that beat
Better lose yourself mama / And knock yourself right off of your feet Yeah, if you’re moving too fast / Want it to last / You better walk it, talk it – Walk & Talk, Velvet Underground

 The company’s core product reaches over 1.2 billion users.

The average employee produces over $1.3 million in revenues and $120k in profit each year.

The stock price is on a roll.

Glassdoor rates it #1 in its list of Best Place to Work (2013)

Facebook has amazing employee productivity figures and it couldn’t do it without an engaged workforce. Yes it has some amazing perks – Free food, free ice-cream, happy hour’s on Fridays, but it’s not just the free gastronomic delights that’s getting Mark all the ‘Likes’ from his workforce.

Mark Zuckerberg plays the engagement game end-to-end and he walks the talk.

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5 tips for busy managers to engage with their teams

ID-10040313A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. —Lao Tzu.

Let’s face it – there is no manager who doesn’t want an engaged outperforming team. What happens is that after getting the kids to school, eating a sandwich while stuffing the laptop into its bag, battling bumper to bumper traffic for an over an hour, sitting through a forty minute review meeting you finally open up your laptop to see over a hundred mails and four meeting requests – by around 11 in the morning, thoughts of engaging with the team goes out the door along with the decision to stick to a healthy diet and get in 30 minutes of exercise.

Sounds familiar?

And in a typical organization, this is the scene at all levels. Every day there are fires to fight, deadlines to meet, plans that threaten to go haywire, calls that interrupt you, urgent messages from the boss telling you to drop everything and start something new. Who has the time to place balloons on the desk of a team member who just fixed a major bug your largest customer reported last month.

Just thinking about it makes your pulse race faster, doesn’t it? Take a deep breath. And read on.

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Employee engagement strategies you learnt on your mother’s knee

I was down at the local supermarket today morning. As usual I was loitering in the candy and cookies section (a section that is supposedly off-limits for me) when a little girl ran into me and nearly knocked me over. She was so focused on some candies on a shelf way beyond her reach that she just didn’t see me standing there. A couple of hops and a full body stretch but she still couldn’t reach them.  I decided to help her and handed her a few. She gave the collection in my palm a very detailed check and nodded her head. She wanted the one with a bright yellow wrapper. And as soon I handed it over, she was off like a rocket. I shrugged and turned to get on with my grocery shopping. Seconds later she was back, a little out of breath. “Mommy says I have to say Thank you. Thank Youuu!”  A big impish smile and she was off again.

Be sure the next time I meet that girl in the store; I will sort through the entire rack to pick out as many yellow wrapper candies she wants me to.  The payoff: An impish smile and a thank you.

On my way back, I started thinking about all the stuff mothers teach kids. A whole lot of it sounds like best practices in employee engagement strategies. Here’s a quick refresher of stuff your mom already taught you (but then you forgot as you grew up in the big bad world)

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Employee engagement in tough times

Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm. —Publilius Syrus

The markets are going through a funk. The data in the reports from the central bank is depressing. The currency markets are more volatile than companies have stomach for. The markets seem to move only in one direction – down! Times are tough. Costs need to be pared. But before you reach for the good old financial-machete and start slashing ‘non-essential expenditure’ – take a moment and think. Do your employee engagement programs constitute essential or ‘good-to-have’ expenditure?

Let me put it this way, if getting the work done, surviving the market conditions and meeting your targets is ‘good-to-have’, then so is employee engagement. If you feel that your top-line and bottom-line targets are non-negotiable, then you better invest in your employees more than ever.

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The Ascent of Employee Engagement: A (very brief) history of motivation in the workplace (Part 2)

“There is an error; but it is merely the accidental error of mistaking the abstract for the concrete. It is an example of what I will call the ‘Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.’… It is not necessary for the intellect to fall into the trap, though {…} there has been a very general tendency to do so.” Science and the Modern World, 1926, Alfred North Whitehead.

The Hawthorne Experiments: “the great éclaircissement”:

Mention “Hawthorne Experiments” at a cocktail party and chances are some wise-crack will ask you trying turning up the lights to get the party going. Jokes apart the experiments done at the Hawthorne Works were extraordinary in the sheer scale and the time duration. The experiments represent a major milestone in the rise of the ‘Human Relations Movement’ and also the shift of ‘management’ from a linear ‘scientific’ approach to a multidisciplinary one.

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The Ascent of Employee Engagement: A (very brief) history of motivation in the workplace (Part 1)

Iron and Coal by William Bell ScottI like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. – Thomas Jefferson

Employee Engagement as a concept is going through some exciting changes. As geographical boundaries collapse, and distances are reduced to meaningless numbers – markets are getting more competitive and brutal than ever before. And companies are increasingly realizing that the only thing that will help them survive (and thrive) is their key asset – their people.  Office buildings and computers will not innovate. People will. HR professionals and business leaders are waking up to the reality that extrinsic motivation can only do so much. Intrinsic motivation is what’s crucial to make the cut. The art of engagement is all about providing an environment where the intrinsic motivation of employees dovetails with that of the organization.

To make sense of where we are and where we are heading to, it’s useful to take a pause and look back for a moment. Over the next few posts I am going to outline the various theories which form the foundations of employee engagement today.

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Employee Engagement: Why doesn’t everybody just do it?

Farmer at the dentist _ Johann LissMakes you wonder doesn’t it? Everybody knows that engaged employees are much more productive and innovative. Even if you don’t quite believe the exact percentages often quoted, the concept is intuitive enough. Your employees are happy and so they go the extra mile to do a better job. You know you would. Why then would all managers and leaders in an organization not want to invest their time and energy in building a culture of actively engaging employees? Boggles the mind, does it not?

The answer to that question lies in the innocuous bottle of hand-wash lying on your bathroom sink.


Settle down comfortably. Get a cup of coffee. There is a long-ish story I need to tell you before getting back to the soap (and employee engagement).

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Engaging Gen-Y: The ‘Millennial’ Challenge (Part 3 – The strategies)

_Strategy_Success_This is the third and final post in the series. The first post is here, the second is here.

It was almost 6. Kaushik, as the HR director was called by all his peers in senior management was slouched in a plush leather chair in one corner of the bar in his club. The chair in front of him was vacant. Kamal, the director of operations was late, since he was battling some crisis at office. And just as well – Kaushik needed some time to think.

The atmosphere in Nymphaea (as the lounge was called) was muted. There was a smattering of people reading or chatting with friends ensconced in over-sized leather chairs and sofas. The lighting was dim and the view of the perfectly manicured gardens, with its lotus pools, soothing – A far cry from the tense atmosphere in office these days.

Kaushik took another sip of his drink and stared out of the large french windows. The spectacular hues of a summer sunset were lost on him as the impending discussion with his friend loomed. He knew that his initiatives to actively engage Gen-Y would be challenging, but he hadn’t expected an outright war. The senior management were people who had vast amounts of industry experience and were more than competent. To their credit they had built the company from ground up over the last three decades but they could not afford to be blind to reality. Growth was slowing. Costs were rising. Each time a trained employee left the company, it impacted the bottom line. The costs of training and bringing new employees up to speed was non-trivial and was a topic the CFO kept bringing up in the quarterly management meets.

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Engaging Gen-Y: The ‘Millennial’ Challenge (Part 2 – The chasm)

(This is the second post in a three part series. The first post is here)

 Gen_Why_InTheWorkplace_“Just another brick in the wall!” Arvind changed his facebook status message using his Smartphone and he knew the inevitable flood of questions from his network would follow. He was bugged. His status “Da man has arrived – now EA to the Prez!” a week back, had gotten him over 70 ‘likes’ – a personal record.  But it didn’t take a doctorate in human psychology to figure out that he was not really hitting it off with his boss. “The man just refuses to think differently or even consider there is a better way of doing things. He wants everything to be ‘thought through’. That approach is so-dead” Arvind ranted over a Whats-App chat session with his close friend. Arvind had slaved the entire weekend and come up with a detailed presentation outlining what he felt was a massive improvement over the current process. “Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken” is all that the president said when he shooed Arvind out of the room after having barely glanced at the presentation slides.

Up on the seventh floor of the corporate office: The president once again opened the presentation his EA had sent him. He was impressed with the way the young entrant had tried to use new technologies to reduce some of the inefficiencies in the process but what was also obvious was that the impatient young man didn’t have the depth of understanding required to overhaul the entire process chain. In the good old days a new comer would immerse himself for years before daring to come up with a plan to overhaul an established process and this was the fifth time in the last week alone that Arvind had come up with a ‘game changing’ plan – none of which was really necessary right now. There were more than enough burning fires that needed putting out. “This new generation thinks it can change the world overnight”.

The president shook his head as he picked up the phone to call the HR head.

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Engaging Gen-Y: The ‘Millennial’ Challenge (Part 1 – the Hero Generation)

I love Gen_Y_“You want to think about how to prepare the next generation to move into leadership and they’re already thinking about buying the company.”*

Arvind had just joined the company fresh out of India’s best B-school. The CEO himself was on the panel that selected Arvindt to join his company’s young leaders program. Quick introductions to the senior management over, Arvind is assigned to be the EA of the 55 year old President of Global Operations, a 20 year veteran.  A fortnight later, the senior man is in on the phone with the HR head. The “kid” is overconfident, he says. Arvind is pushy and impatient and worst of all, he wants to leave at 6pm every day. The president want’s the HR head to intervene and have a frank talk or he wants the “brat” gone by the end of the month.

HR professionals today have a unique challenge. The typical workforce for large and medium organizations now has the ‘Independence Babies (Boomers)’ retiring, Gen-X at the helm of affairs or in senior positions, and Gen-Y entering the workforce eager to take charge. To make matters more interesting, the behavioural gap between those in charge and the incoming workforce couldn’t be starker. Organizations can no longer hope to actively engage their workforce by having an undifferentiated ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach towards employee engagement.

Annual Appraisals: It’s time to move on!


To martyr yourself to caution/ is not going to help at all / because there’ll be no safety in numbers / when the right one walks out of the door

[Lost for Words, Pink Floyd]

Every year, around March-April there is a flurry of mails from HR reminding people to complete their appraisal inputs. Team members are exhorted to fill in their self ratings by the deadline, and then managers are hounded by HR to complete their ratings of their teams. A few days later all the managers are invited to a day-long meeting to do the dreaded ‘curve fitting’- since the logic goes that ratings of individuals on teams no matter how good or small should fit a normal distribution. (Those meetings can sometimes turn violent too when the fitting doesn’t go too well) Weeks later the ratings are communicated to the employees and that’s when the resignations start. A popular joke goes that moving companies record their maximum revenue for the year in the weeks right after annual appraisals are completed in companies.

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Happiness: the ‘new’ productivity driver

_kwench_happiness_driver_blogPostThe latest topic of interest at B-schools interestingly has little to do with finance or advanced operations management and has more to do with the ‘well-being’ of the workforce in companies. ‘Human Flourishing’ or ‘Subjective Well-being’ as some of the Prof’s put it, but ‘Happiness’ to most of us.

Research is now showing that contrary to the popular belief – ‘pressure drives productivity’, it is happiness at the workplace that makes good business sense. Happy employees, it turns out, tend to be healthier, more creative at finding solutions to problems and generally more productive.
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The magic of reading: How books can open your mind

I have a room full of books. They are stacked up on (and toppling from) every available piece of furniture. And now at ‘kwench, I work in a place that has books stacked from floor to ceiling – in every direction! There is no doubt about it – I am an incurable bibliophile.

And yet when people ask me why I love reading, I often find myself struggling to explain exactly why. There is this excellent quote by Louis L’ Amour which I often turn to.

“For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.”

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SaaS and Cloud Computing: driving HR Transformation

_Cloud_HR_Cloud Com.put.ing (noun; jargon)

The practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server…*

Cloud computing, a pervasive term in the world of technology these days, involves the sharing of resources to achieve economies of scale and maximizing the effectiveness of the shared resources.

The term ‘moving to the cloud’ refers to an organization moving away from the traditional capex model (buy the dedicated hardware and depreciate it over a period of time) to the opex model (use a shared cloud infrastructure and pay as you use it)*. Whether as NaaS (Network as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) or the most popular SaaS (Software as a Service), cloud computing is transforming the technology landscape in ways that can be best described as ‘disruptive’ and HR functions are no different. Irrespective of scale and size of the organization, HR teams across the world are leveraging the flexibility and scalability offered by SaaS solutions to become globally competitive and deliver clear business impact.
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“Kwench is clearly the darling of HR teams…”

Media_‘kwench was recently featured on SME Mentor (Moneycontrol.com) for its offerings that are helping HR teams in India transform their engagement strategy.

Some quotes from top executives at out clients featured in the article.

“Employees use the platform not only to give and receive awards but also for peer-to-peer recognition and to congratulate winners. The portal helps breaks down departmental and geographic boundaries and builds a community,” explains Vivek Punekar, Chief Human Resources Officer, HCL Infosystems Ltd, and a client of Kwench.
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Notes to the CEO: Transform your employee engagement strategy [Infographic]

_Kwench_Blog_NotesToTheCEO_30Apr2013_Thumbnail_You have tried everything – hiked salaries, given huge bonus payouts, taken the whole company on an all expenses paid trip, there’s free food in the refrigerator and even a yoga teacher who comes in every Friday to help the team relax.

And yet, you don’t see it. There is simply no energy. Products aren’t getting shipped on time or with the quality you expect. Your customers are slowly but surely taking their business elsewhere. The business plan you submitted to the board looks more like like a fairy tale now.

This scenario, every leader’s nightmare, unfortunately is playing out in thousands of corporates every single day in varying degrees. The chasm between what most companies do for engaging their workforce and what is expected is growing.

And you can blame it on the gizmos (if you don’t want to face reality).
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Social Intranets: Your key to a “Knowledge-Creating Company”


By 2016, 50 percent of large organizations will have internal Facebook-like social networks, and that 30 percent of these will be considered as essential as email and telephones are today. (Gartner Research)

Social networking sites are increasingly becoming the primary means of communication among people outside of their workplace. It should therefore come as no surprise that organizations are increasingly considering the option of deploying similar solutions internally to improve communication and collaboration among their employees. But the biggest hurdle senior management faces is in pinning down the ROI of a paradigm shift from emails, phones and traditional “secure” knowledge repositories to social intranets and real time collaboration platforms.

The problem is – most of them are looking for answers in the wrong place.
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The benefits of Non-Monetary Peer-to-Peer Recognition


“The deepest human need, is to be appreciated” – Willam James, Psychologist

In my previous post on what motivates people at the workplace, one of the major takeaways was how people have a need to feel appreciated by their peers. But does peer to peer recognition really have such a big impact? The short answer is a big resounding Yes!

But why is it so important, especially now?

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Motivation at work: 3 fascinating insights

A young man in a bank burns the midnight oil for more than two weeks, making detailed financial spreadsheets for a M&A deal that his boss had asked him to work on. He spends long hours, completes a detailed presentation and then sends it to the boss the day before it was due.

The boss writes back “Nice presentation, but the merger is cancelled.”
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Boosting your employee engagement mindset


It is an open secret that engaged employees are the key to success in today’s highly competitive market place. Engaged employees are far more productive, less likely to churn and tend be far more aware of market reality and deliver results. On the other hand research into human psychology has proven time and again that human beings are inherently anxious to be engaged at work and want to make a difference. Considering these facts, one wonders where the disconnect is.

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[Infographic] Why CEOs need to focus to Employee Engagement


Highly engaged employees make for better business outputs,  more loyal customers, fewer ‘problems’ and better financial performance. Employee engagement is critical to business leaders…

A very informative infographic on why CEOs need to focus on employee engagement.
Continue reading “[Infographic] Why CEOs need to focus to Employee Engagement”

Subject: Hello World!


“Hello World” – the two words made famous by all computer programming guides in their examples for the first program that the reader is expected to write. It seemed like a good title for the first post to start off the ‘kwench blog as well. For those who don’t know (Gasp! is there anybody who doesn’t?) let me start with a quick introduction to what ‘kwench is all about…

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