The one BIG idea for Employee Engagement in 2016!

Looking for one transformational idea for Employee Engagement in 2016? kfit: the Employee Health and Wellness platform from Kwench might be just what you are looking for!

I have always dreaded the last week of December. Christmas and New Year get-together and cake eating binges aside, there is always the dreaded mental review of another year gone by.

Ever since I landed up on the wrong side of 30, “Loose Weight” and “Exercise Regularly” have been on top or near top of my New Year Resolutions list and are always the items with a red cross against them in my year-end review. And somewhere along the year I would have inevitably invested in exercise gear that cost way more than I could afford, gym memberships that cost even more than the above mentioned exercise gear, and last year even a high-end water-proof watch – you know, for when I do the 25 laps in the pool. Several consecutive years of this pattern, and tens of thousands of Rupees later – I was fed up.

So I did what was seemed most obvious thing to do – I headed to the café and discussed my problem with others! (With a large latte and a chocolate donut on the side). Now what is interesting is that the story seemed to be pretty common across people I talked to. With all the stresses of just barely balancing daily work and family life, exercise and diet more often than not takes a back seat. Even drinking adequate amounts of water can be a challenge and the sugar in all the cups of coffee reflects pretty quickly on the waistline – if not worse! My colleagues at Kwench pretty much confirmed the challenges and so did a lot of our friends, family and even clients to whom we posed the question.

There is no doubt about it. The more we asked around the more it seemed that India Inc. has a serious health problem. We dug around for some data and this is what we found.





Well that’s just one part of the problem. You see from an organizational perspective, there is a lot at stake when the wellbeing of its workforce is not quite up to the mark. Loss of productivity due to more sick days, absenteeism and worse presenteeism.

If there is so much at stake for both the employee and the employer, why don’t Workplace Wellness programs work? Research on enterprise wellness programs by Guidespark reveals the top reasons why these programs don’t achieve the required results. While ~70% of employees feel that wellness is important, less than 10% actually take full advantage of such programs. Employees don’t participate or the end results are not as expected because they are too busy with work, the programs don’t suit their lifestyle or that they are not fully aware of what is on offer. Almost half of them felt that their biggest wellness challenge was insufficient activity followed by stress and poor nutrition.

Clearly any wellness initiative that hopes to succeed in the workplace must have a solution to all if not most of these issues.

One of the really cool things of working at Kwench is that problems are not left unattended for too long. Anything that touches on Employee Engagement obviously piques our interest. And if we think we can use technology to fix that problem them it excites us to no end.

We took the problem, pondered over it, did our homework, drew the sketches, put the engineers and designers into one big room to do their magic and created kfit – a comprehensive employee health and wellness platform that leverages the magic of social, gamification and mobility to help companies raise the health quotient of their workforce. kfit uses micro interventions coupled with technology to bring about positive and long lasting behavioral change.

Excited? We sure hope so, because we are very excited about the possibilities this platform holds in transforming the health and wellness landscape of Corporate India.

If you are looking for one BIG idea for your Employee Engagement program for 2016, then look no further.

If you want us to get in touch and explain more about how kfit can help transform your company’s wellness, please send us an enquiry.

If you want to know more, here is a quick guide to why this is the one BIG Idea, that you can download and it is titled (Surprise, Surprise): The One BIG Idea for Employee Engagement in 2016!



Oh and I am glad to say this year I won’t be putting a cross against “Loose Weight” and “Exercise Regularly” on my resolution list from Jan ’15.

2016 promises to be a whole new year – in more ways than one! Join us in changing the world – one step at a time!

PS: Reminder – Get in touch with us and we will be glad to talk about Employee Engagement Ideas for 2016!


Employee Alignment-Zone: “The Time Element”

The Architect – Precisely. As you are undoubtedly gathering, the anomaly is systemic, creating fluctuations in even the most simplistic equations.

 Neo – Choice. The problem is choice. (Matrix Reloaded, 2003)

On this blog and in quite a few conversations, I have pointed out the risks of overtly relying on cohorts or grouping of employees to formulate an employee engagement strategy. Using segments and cohorts to understand broad behavior and drivers of engagement is okay, but trying to engage the individual based only on those conclusions is not the best approach.

As ‘Neo’ puts it in the movie Matrix Reloaded , the ‘problem’ is Choice or to be more accurate, in this case – individuality. Every employee is an individual with her own priorities, preferences, fears and responsibilities.


Work, forms an important part of an employees life – and the emphasis I place is on ‘part’ and not on ‘important’ because that aspect is the one that often gets missed out when employee engagement strategies or initiatives are designed. As an individual with family, friends, interests, hobbies, ambitions and aspirations – responsibilities at work represent just a fraction of the things that matter to the employee.

There are a bunch of things that are important to the employee (health, financial well being, spending time with family, a social life, learning new things, new experiences) and there are things are important to the organization (employee well being, profits, playing an important role in the society, innovation).

When an employee is at work, he is operating in the intersection of these two spheres – there are things that matter to him which align with what matters to the organization. When this overlap is driven by the correct factors (alignment on the larger picture, the direction the company is taking, quality of work, the work culture etc.), there is a zone of alignment that is sustaining (and empowering).


When what matters to the organization (as perceived by the employee) starts to drift away from what matters to the employee as an individual, this overlap reduces, the zone of alignment starts to shrink and becomes unsustainable. This is when disillusionment sets in eventually leading to Disengagement if corrective measures are not taken.


Too much of something:

The logical question that follows is what when there is perfect alignment – shouldn’t that be the ideal state? To borrow (somewhat incorrectly) from that age-old adage, “Too much of anything isn’t good for you”

A situation where an individual is completely (and only) aligned with what matters for the organization makes him dysfunctional in other things that should matter to him. If the last line reminds you of the uptight, always-on-the-edge, hard driving, ranting and screaming executive, you are bang-on.


The other (unintended) consequence of such a situation is that individual then subsumes his discretion to what seems best for the organization. Being too focused on one aspect inevitably leads to a myopic vision of what is correct. It is the healthy balance of all aspects in ones life that helps drive a balanced approach towards challenges – both personal and at work.

A ‘super-mom’ I know uses negotiation skills learnt at work with her 1-year-old infant (works most of the time) and then takes the lessons learnt from handling the concerns of parents, her husband, siblings back to work to engage with her multi-generational team. Imagine what would happen if she tried a time-sheet driven approach with her infant or never took time out to spend time with her parents or spouse but focused only fixing “issues” at work (of which there never seems to be any dearth).


The Time Element:

Unlike organizations, what ‘matters’ to an individual is in a state of flux. I am not talking of value systems, or ambitions – those are (hopefully) rather fixed. I am referring to the drivers of what is a priority. Companies and Institutions have stated goals at time of creation and (usually) those drive everything they do. People on the other hand have changing preferences and changing events and these affect the overlap and consequently the alignment they have with the organization.


If the organization stays rigid on how it interacts with the employee, then the extent of alignment is bound to change. Again an increased degree of alignment is not necessarily a good thing.

A few years ago I got chatting with a senior executive at a party. He was really good what he did, and totally disengaged. He was so efficient at what he did that the organization was reluctant to consider what his own personal aspirations were and had kept him doing the same thing for years on end. “The Gap of Disengagement” was very clear and he was looking to quit because he realized that by staying on he was damaging himself and the organization through his disengagement. I ran into him two years later in a busy airport and was surprised that he was still with the same organization in the same role. When I quizzed him, he confessed that he was still disillusioned but a personal crisis had made it impossible for him to look for other possibilities. His efficiency gave him more time at home and so he compromised his ambitions to stay on with his employer. The executive’s alignment with his employer had increased, but it was driven purely by convenience.

Smart organizations would avoid this situation by being aware of various dimensions of what drives each employee. DIY Pulse surveys are a good way; Managers who listen to their team members and do something about their concerns are even better.

A static employee engagement program is not enough neither is a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Like ‘generically designed’ antibiotics can have unexpected nasty side-effects in patients, employee engagement strategies designed for ‘masses’, ‘cohorts’ or ‘segments’ can induce the reverse effect. The pharmaceutical industry has woken up to the importance of pharmacogenomics to counter the ill effects of ‘universal-design’ for medicines – its time for HR professionals to follow suit.


Post title inspired by the Twilight Zone series (1958)

The Impact of A$s*@!#% on Organizational Performance

AbusiveBoss_The Indian media is at present abuzz with discussions around the ‘Rohtak sisters’. That video, of two fragile looking girls lashing out at men who tried to harass them on a bus (while other passengers just sat there watching them) – got me thinking about the effect of another kind of harassment – workplace bullying.

At some point or the other, we have all had to put up with unpleasant people at the workplace – The kinds who seem to get away with anything because they are ‘rainmakers’ or perceived as ‘too powerful.’ Workplace bullying unlike the pedestrian kind seen on the streets comes in various shades and some of the forms take on a garb of sophistication that makes it very difficult for the victim to attribute as bullying. The term ‘workplace bullying’ often conjures up mental images of a manager who is ranting and screaming or of snide and tangential remarks directed at women in the workplace. These are but just a part of what constitutes workplace bullying and it is by no means limited to Type A aggressive ambitious men (who are incorrectly portrayed as always being extremely aggressive) playing a winner-takes-all game.

‘It is terrifying’

In a study that revealed some startling insights, psychologists at the University of Surrey compared personality profiles of high-level executives with those of criminal psychiatric patients and found that three of the eleven personality disorders were actually more common in the executives.

The executives seemed to be prone to the following three maladies:

  1. Histronic Personality Disorder: People who suffer from this disorder demonstrate a pattern of excessive attention seeking. They tend to show superficial charm, insincerity, and egocentricity and often indulge in manipulative behavior.
  2. Narcissistic Personality Disorder: People suffering from this type of personality disorder are excessively preoccupied with power, prestige and vanity. They are seen to have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and have a strong need for constant admiration.
  3. Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder: These are executives who are overtly focused on perfection. They tend to come across as extremely devoted to their work and tend to be rigid and stubborn with dictatorial tendencies.

In his book Corporate Psychopaths: Organizational Destroyers, Clive Boddy identifies two types of bullying in the workplace:

  1. Predatory Bullies: These are people who enjoy tormenting others just because they can – they are no better than their roadside variants. (The ones that gang up on a soft-spoken member of the team, the ones who pass snide remarks at women in the workplace, the manager who gives a team-member lower rating for no particular reason)
  2. Instrumental Bullies: These are the smart ones. Their bullying is always to further their own goals. More often than not these bullies are narcissists.

Narcissists in the workplace usually resort to indirect (and sophisticated) bullying. Typical tactics include withholding information, leaving team members out of the loop, getting others to keep doing work below their competence level, gossiping and putting down others behind their back.

‘They walk among us’

In his book “The No Asshole Rule” (and the inspiration for the post’s title), Robert Sutton lists down twelve everyday actions that he feels Assholes use:

  1. Personal Insults
  2. Invading one’s ‘personal territory’
  3. Uninvited physical contact
  4. Threats and Intimidation: Verbal and Non-Verbal
  5. ‘Sarcastic Jokes’ and ‘Teasing’ used as insult delivery systems
  6. Flaming e-mails
  7. (IM) Status slaps intended to humiliate others
  8. ‘Status Degradation’ rituals
  9. Rude Interruptions
  10. Two-faced Attacks
  11. Dirty Looks
  12. Treating people as if they were invisible/Ignoring people.

Everyone who has been in a high-pressure situation at work has demonstrated one of more of these behaviours at some point or the other. Sutton points out that psychologists make a distinction between ‘states’ (fleeting feelings/actions) and ‘traits’ (enduring characteristics).

Surveys and research has shown that workplace bullying is not isolated or restriced to a few unlucky ones. In her dissertation titled ‘Workplace Bullying: Aggressive Behaviour and its Effect on Job Satisfaction and Productivity’, presented by Judith Lynn she says:

“The data in this study found that 75% of participants reported witnessing mistreatment of coworkers sometime throughout their careers, 47% have been bullied during their career…”


The (real) impact on Organizations (that put up with A&$*@!#%)

In the past companies (read top management) used to often look the other way when people reported about badly behaved superiors. There are several reasons why this happened. Maybe (and this is often the reason) the intolerable executive was delivering numbers or maybe he was the rainmaker and leadership felt they couldn’t afford to loose him. Sometimes the person is the leader and the culture then percolates down to lower levels of the company.

In his book Sutton gives the example of Linda Wachner, former CEO of Warnaco who would ‘dress down’ her senior executives and made them feel ‘knee-high’. To make matters worse former employees allege that the attacks were ‘personal rather than professional and not infrequently laced with crude references to sex, race or ethnicity’. He also talks about ‘Chainsaw’ Al Dunlap, former CEO of Sunbeam who is described as ‘like a dog barking at you for hours…He just yelled, ranted, and raved. He was condescending, belligerent and disrespectful’

How engaged do you think people working for these leaders felt?

Organizations are waking up to the risks of putting up with people that are mean or ones who sideline people to further their ‘divide and rule’ strategy.

Research has shown that at the very least workplace bullying leads to increase stress among the workforce, which causes disengagement, productivity loss and even health issues. All of these have a real measurable impact on the bottom line at the end of the day. In some extreme cases, that victims display Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – usually associated with severe trauma like rape or being in a conflict-zone.

That’s not all. Companies have to put with the associated costs of increased attrition – not only of the victims but even those who witness it.

Based on replacement cost of those who leave as a result of being bullied or witnessing bullying, Rayner and Keashly (2004) estimated that for an organization of 1,000 people, the cost would be $1.2 million US. This estimate did not include the cost of litigation.

The cost of workplace bullying represents a ‘Clear and Present Danger’ to responsible organizations that are looking to foster a motivating and innovative work culture. It will be nearly impossible for organizations to attract top-talent when a lot of their energy is wasted in managing the fall-out of aggressive behavior or petty-politics.

Good leaders realize this and are starting to take the ‘bull by the horn’. Work Culture is clearly defined and those who seek to undermine it are not tolerated – no matter how important they might seem to the organization. They might be critical today, but the damage they do in the long run will far outweigh any gains they provide.

‘Do you believe your manager/supervisor indulges in manipulative or divisive behavior?’ is a question that might soon start appearing in Employee Engagement Surveys.


In case you are interested, here are some related Tools:

You might feel that none of this applies to you (and you might be surprised). You can take the ARSE (Asshole Rating Self-Exam) here (

If you strongly feel that your boss is the problem, then test your theory. Take the BRASS (Boss Reality Assessment Survey System) Test here (

If you want to get a peek at the Financial Cost of Organizational Conflict, check out the online calculator based on the research of Dr. Dan Dana here. (


Acknowledgements and References:

Image courtesy of


The No Asshole Rule, Robert Sutton, Piatkus

Narcissism in the workplace, Wikipedia References

[Webinar] Business and Society: A Time of Transition.



Theme: Business and Society: A Time of Transition

The ‘and’ in the title indicates a hitherto conventional notion that business and society are separate…and that the relationship between them is one of social contract that is legislative and punitive in spirit. However, the global trends and patterns of the last couple of decades indicate that a fundamental transition is happening – a transition where the ‘And’ is progressively moving towards ‘In and For’. The notion of a ‘Responsible Business’ today is much more widespread and well established. The talk will examine the various facets of what a ‘responsible business’ means and the fine dividing line between business and social responsibility. The central role of people in ushering in deep rooted change of this kind and in steering this crucial transition is also discussed.

Speaker: P.S.Naryan

Narayan5P.S.Narayan is the Vice President and Head of Sustainability at Wipro Ltd. He has been instrumental in the creation of Wipro’s sustainability initiative and has stewarded it since its inception in early 2008. Wipro’s sustainability charter is built on the core principle that business and social purpose must reinforce each other in addressing several key challenges around ecology and the environment, education and communities.

A graduate in Electrical Engineering with a post-graduation in Management, Narayan has more than twenty years of cross-disciplinary experience in consulting, business development, Enterprise Systems and most recently, in Corporate Sustainability. In addition, Narayan is guest faculty at the Azim Premji University where he teaches ‘Ecology and Development’ as part of the Masters in Development course.

Prior to the current role, Narayan was the global head of Information Systems for Wipro’s IT business, when he was chosen as one of CIO’s global 25 Ones to Watch in 2007.

Webinar Details:

As always registration for the webinar is free.

To register please click here

Webinar ID: 104-057-275



Murmuration: Infosys gets its employee (re)engagement strategy right!

ID-100248393I got something to tell you / I got something to say
I’m gonna put this dream in motion / Never let nothing stand in my way
When the going gets tough / The tough get going

I’m gonna get myself ‘cross the river / That’s the price I’m willing to pay
I’m gonna make you stand and deliver / And give me love in the old-fashion way (Billy Ocean, When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going)

I have been following the Infosys story with fascination over the past few months. The company has been in the news, usually making headlines for- arguably the worst possible reason –record levels of attrition. The media reports would have you believe that employees, at all levels, are leaving the company in droves. There have been enough interesting movements at the top as well, with Narayan Murthy coming back for a while to find a CEO, and Vishal Sikka finally taking over as the first non-founder CEO in August. One expected things would improve from then on, and though all the right noises are being made, its early days yet. Course correction measures that NRN will have put in place, would possibly still need time to show results and Vishal has been at the helm for just over a month – even middle level managers are given 90 days to get going!

In spite of media and analyst reports stating that the company continues to be in denial about their attrition problem, I was quite impressed with the moves that the current CEO and his team seem to be doing – to stem the flow of employees and bad publicity. (Nothing saps employee motivation than, opening the newspaper everyday to find some more news about how the company is losing people at record rates).

Though I wasn’t excited with the hikes and the mass promotions (I am sure there was enough data justifying that action), the decision to crowd-source suggestions for improvement (and calling it murmuration was a masterstroke!), the call to increase frequency of promotions were all clearly the actions of a CEO who wants to put his finger on the pulse of the organization and is on the job at fixing it!

I thought things were shaping up nicely till I came across an article(reference #3), outlining how employees who “hit the exit button on the company’s internal e-separation system receive an automated mail from Sikka, that captures the transition underway to re-energize the $8.2billion IT firm.”

Now that one made me go hmm…

One wonders why only the employees who have decided to quit, are the ones getting a peek into the transition plan. Another media article had earlier reported that Vishal will unveil his growth plan in Mid October.

Maybe the article (reference #3) left out more than it told, but if this is true, then I think the auto-mailer is a mistake – one that can undo a lot of the good, that the management is doing towards engaging the workforce at this point in time. Automated mail-responses silently scream “don’t really care”, even if they have been sent with the best of intentions. In my opinion they are good for acknowledging that your complaint about the phone bill has been received, not so much for retaining an employee!

The article goes on to state the mail does ask the exiting employee to schedule a chat with unit leadership ..’should they want further clarity.’

Double hmm….

(Disclaimer: Infosys didn’t respond to queries from the paper, so its my assumption that the mail and its stated content are accurate and have been verified. That assumption of course might be misplaced.)

Employee engagement in difficult times:

The challenges of engaging with the workforce, when the company is going through a phase of internal turmoil, are very different from those that come when the market conditions are tough. A cynical view of the situation is to assume that, employees who are ‘good’ will leave a troubled organization and the those staying put are the ones who can’t get a better offer anywhere. Let’s be clear, that is pure nonsense.

A more realistic opinion is that, even when employees leave an organization in turmoil, it’s mostly because they are not able to see a clear picture of the future. It is up to the management to paint the picture and make it attractive. So those employees are literally leaving the managers, not the company. And when that is the driver for attrition, sending an auto-mail may not quite cut it.

Employee Engagement is often oversimplified by stating that, higher engagement automatically leads to better productivity. Engagement is not a unitary construct and is more an overarching theme, which includes job satisfaction – but is not just that.

There are a few things that companies can do to engage with their employees when things aren’t quite going the way it is supposed to. Here’s a short list:

Ask employees for candid feedback (and act on it!): Asking the employees candid feedback on what they think is broken and what they think needs to be done to fix it, is the easiest way to get to the root of the problems. It is imperative for the leadership to strip away the layers separating them from the ‘guy-on-the-frontline’ and get a sense of what everyone feels. Town-hall meetings are a good way to get the ball rolling, but these have limitations in efficacy, especially because a vast majority tends to be non-vocal and it’s not always the ones who talk the most who have the best ideas or feedback.

Today companies can easily leverage the power of technology and have an online feedback system where people are encouraged to post exactly what they feel and they can choose to be anonymous if they so prefer. Again, the top leadership should be seen participating directly! (Steve jobs may not have been the most polite customer service agent, but his very public email ID helped him keep close tabs on what people were saying about his company and its products.)

Having a plan to act on the feedback received is critical – especially in an organization where employees feel that the leadership is not in synch with them. When employees sense that, their concerns are not just being heard, but also acted on – it works magic for their motivation and for organizational outcomes. For feedback that can be easily fixed, the leadership should cut through the organizational red-tape (Yes! There will be plenty of that even when everybody knows it’s a crisis) and make it happen. For suggestions that can’t be implemented there has to be an open and candid explanation as to why it can’t be done. These actions will go a long way towards assuaging the immediate concern that, most employees will have that “management doesn’t listen”.

Create a long term plan and paint the picture clearly:

As I mentioned before, companies don’t become a bad place to work overnight. Uncertainty about the future is like flu – it is extremely infectious and it puts people out of action. Eventually when things get really bad, they start to quit. Nobody wants to work for an organization that doesn’t have a plan. If the only target you are looking at is the next quarter’s numbers and you don’t care if those numbers are met by writing software or selling stuffed toys, then people will leave you! (Maybe the ones good at selling stuffed toys might stay back, but you don’t get to be an industry bellwether that way)

Bad times don’t last forever. Unfortunately people tend to forget that bit and everyone paints the gloomy picture in a slightly darker shade with each passing day. As a leader your primary task is to show your dedicated and loyal workforce the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel (not just the ones who are leaving you).

Its hard work! It is not enough to paint a picture with broad brush strokes; you have to paint one that is inspiring enough for people to repose their faith in you. The challenge here is for the leader to understand that people who are committed to their jobs and are good at what they do may not be necessarily committed to the organization and those who are extremely committed to the organization may not be the right ones to fix the problems.

 Kill the “What’s in it for me attitude”, commit to your core values:

Shake-ups are good, but only when they are aligned with the core values and vision of the organization. When employees and leadership are aligned around the core of what drives their actions, the superficial concerns about pay, promotions, uncertainty about the future et. al. fall by the way side. The discussion then becomes about what the company is doing on a daily basis and how that matches up against the stated values and vision. If your base is flexible and open to interpretation depending on the latest crisis, either internal or in the market place, then there is little for employees to anchor their faith in.

Empower the managers and create a groundswell of engagement:

In times of crisis, a common reaction of leaders is to consolidate and centralize all decision making. While this approach is correct in certain times (e.g. you have been hit with a big lawsuit), in a situation where you are battling employee disengagement, this might actually prove counterproductive. In fact by empowering managers and team-leaders way down the hierarchy to recognize and reward good work will help to dispel the perception that the organization doesn’t care. As I have written before on this blog and other places, cash and large annual bonuses is not the solution. The rewards and recognition have to be open, transparent, public, relevant and timely. There is enough research to prove that employees value peer recognition much more. Companies can easily leverage technology platforms to provide, social recognition to their employees, irrespective of where they are based and dramatically improve the efficacy of their rewards budget.

One last thought on compensation. When a company is facing a problem that is expected to be fixed by pay-rises and mass promotions, it would not be a far-fetched assumption that employees have issues with pay discrepancies. When companies grow large, pay-revisions, adjustments, salary pegs to which graduate school you went to, one-time adjustments, bonus payouts, retention payouts etc all make the pay structures a convoluted mess. I have seen many cases where people go to HR complaining about they pay being (far) lesser than a colleague (usually a lateral hire) doing exactly the same task. And often the response they get is – ‘compensation is confidential information, why are you discussing it?’ You can see what this is going to do for motivation!

A crisis also offers a hidden opportunity for leadership to clean up and become totally transparent about their compensation policy. You may not want to go to the extremes of the start-up Buffer, but if your compensation policy is good, then nobody is going to have a problem with it when you make it public. If it sucks, then well, hiding it isn’t going to solve anything.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!:

There really is no way around it. Uncertainty is worse than bad news communicated clearly. Not telling staff and investors the realities of the situation and the action being taken to solve it, breeds mistrust, suspicion and fear. If you expect your staff to place their faith in you and stick with you while you guide the ship out of choppy waters, then it’s fair that you repose your faith in them to understand ground realities and appreciate being informed upfront. There is nothing worse for engagement than having to read, about a drop in revenue, profit or increased attrition in the morning paper while just the previous evening your manager was assuring you that everything was “just-hunky-dory.”

And finally,

Publicly support your employees:

There is no time like a crisis to reinforce the message to the employees that, the company cares. Use the social intranet (you do have one, right?) to spread messages of success stories. Make the customer wins a big deal, not just a number to be counted towards the sales target. Open up and let everyone know how the deal was won, what the challenges were, and what strengths helped the company to win the deal. These stories go a long way to help employees get over their doubts about how the company is doing and give them a constant source of motivation. The visible support – especially in tough times – builds trust and generates loyalty and goodwill for the company.

The last word:

Employees are the most critical assets a company has and involving them in the overcoming challenges that the company faces will serve to deepen their commitment and creates the foundation for long-term success. When leaders can instill a sense of confidence and accomplishment in employees during difficult times, it helps to break the downward spiral that is often fuelled by inaccurate media reports.

Engaged employees lead to better performance, which leads to increase commitment to the organization and sets in motion an upward-spiraling growth cycle.

While stemming the flow is definitely a matter of priority, the real focus should be on the ones that are staying put. They are ones who are giving the organization a second chance, the ones who believe that whatever is happening is a short-term problem and that the company will emerge better and stronger from the crisis.

Vishal and his team have their task cut out and I am sure Infosys will once again emerge as a much admired company – minor hiccups like automated emails aside.

Interesting times lie ahead.

References and acknowledgements:

Image courtesy of

  1. Engagement special: Veronica Hope-Hailey on defining engagement, HRMagazine, 09 Apr, 2013
  2. Introducing Open Salaries at Buffer: Our transparent formula and All Individual Salaries, Joel Gascoigne, December 19, 2013, Bufferopen
  3. Vishal Sikka reaches out to exiting Infosys employees, Shilpa Phadnis, Times of India, Sep 11, 2014
  4. Vishal Sikka shortlists 70 ideas from crowdsourcing initiative, The Economic Times, Sep 11, 2014
  5. Infosys is like my middle child, says NR Narayana Murthy, Dibeyendu Ganguly, The Economic Times, Sep 5, 2014
  6. Infosys riding on Vishal Sikka’s anticipated turnaround strategy: P Phani Sekhar, The Economic Times, Sep 4, 2014-09-13
  7. Vishal Sikka inherits an Infosys with strong cultural setup: KV Kamath, Ashish K. Mishra, Leslie D’Monte, liveMint, Sep 3, 2014
  8. Infosys to unveil growth plan by mid-October: Vishal Sikka, The Economic Times, Sep 2, 2014
  9. Vishal Sikka’s 5-point strategy a hit at Infosys, Varun Sood & Jochelle Mendonca, The Economic Times, Aug 18, 2014
  10. Attrition-wary Vishal Sikka promotes 5000 Infosys employees,, 08 Aug 2014
  11.  Confident of Infosys’s future: Vishal Sikka, Anirban Sen, liveMint, 31 Jul, 2014
  12. Infosys attrition at all-time high, The Hindu, 15 April, 2014
  13. Is employee attrition the biggest challenge for Infosys? Shishir Asthana, March 13, 2014, Business Standard

Week #35[Book of the Week] Jumping the S-Curve: How to beat the growth cycle, get on top, and stay there

JumpingTheSCurve_Jumping the S-Curve, reveals how the to companies get to where they are and more importantly, how they stay there. Authors, Paul Nunes and Tim Breene build on extensive research they carried out over several years, to show how successful companies successfully navigate the S-curve(s) of business success. In the book they point out the folly of several leaders who focus only on the ‘visible’ part of the S-curve while planning the strategy for their companies. (The visible S-curve is where companies start off small with a few early adopter clients/users, grows rapidly as the demand for the product/service swells and finally peaks and flattens off as the market matures/saturates)

The authors make a distinction between high performing leaders and others as,

The ability to both climb and jump S-curves is what separates high performers from those that never manage to translate a brief period of accomplishment with a single winning offering into a string of business successes.

In the book the authors point out how in most companies, the management (and leadership) is focused on managing the growth curve and rarely take the effort to understand and address the hidden S-curves.

The hidden S-curves the authors talk about in the book are:

  • The hidden competition curve: The impact of this curve is that because of innovation and other market condition changes, before the business hits its revenue peak, the basis of competition on which it was founded expires.
  • The hidden capabilities curve: In creating capabilities to ride the revenue S-curve, companies create capabilities that they might not be aware till its too late. By the time they are aware of those unknown capabilities in the organization the market would have changed and the company would need to develop new capabilities to compete.
  • The hidden talent curve: While putting substantial efforts in scouting for new talent, companies often are unable to retain the talent they already have. The authors refer to the inability of companies to retain what they call ‘serious talent’: people with both the capability and the will to drive business growth.

The book is a call to management to focus on what the authors call is the ‘real agenda’ – to understand how high performers create an organization that manages to all four curves simultaneously.

The quick answer?

They do so by engaging in three distinct management practices:

  • Creating strategy in a way that is “edge-centric;”
  • Changing the top team well before it appears necessary; and
  • Ensuring that they have more talent than seems required by becoming hothouses of talent.

Our Ratings:

JumpingScurvesRatingFurther Reading:

Jumping the S-curve: How to sustain long term performance, Outlook Journal, Accenture, February 2011

And here are the authors talking about the book:

Rise of ERGs as an Employee Engagement Initiative.

ERGJoseph Wilson is an unlikely name to be associated with Employee Engagement. Yet the founder of the Xerox Corporation is often credited with having founded the first Employee Resource Group (of sorts).

Back in 1968, when violent race riots were tearing apart parts of America, Wilson wrote a letter to his managers, calling for an increased hiring of African-Americans. This move, which led to the establishment of BABE (Bay Area Black Employees), was a ground breaking approach towards addressing the issue of discrimination and achieving equality in the workforce. You can imagine how inspired people would have been to work at Xerox after this!

While ERGs were an excellent tool to help employees find a voice in large organizations, they were often seen as threatening by managers. Over time with changing demographics and the evolution of technology used in the workplace, ERGs (also known as affinity groups or employee networks) seem to be undergoing a resurrection of sorts.

So what’s with the renewed interest in ERGs?

ERGs require commitment of both time and money of the workforce to be successful, in addition to being aligned with the overall company goals. A study by Mercer in 2011, states that companies are spending well into six figures every year, not including the cost of the technology that enables collaboration between employees across the organization, including those in remote locations.

Research, surveys and studies attribute the renewed interest in ERGs to a combination of factors.

  • The investment in technology and communication (and the rise of social networking): Considerable investment in the technology and platforms to enable collaboration between the members of ERGs and the increased acceptance of social networks in the enterprise has improved communication and reach of ERGs. Coupled with dedicated efforts of HR team to make new recruits and teams aware of ERGs over the years , the workforce is now more aware of ERGs and this has contributed to increased memberships.
  • Changing Demographics in the Global Workforce: With Gen-Y now becoming a substantial component of the workforce distribution; their work choices and preferences are contributing to the success of ERGs. Unlike the generations that preceded them, Gen-Y is digitally native and are comfortable working collaboratively and using social media tools – both of which are critical to the success of employee networks.
  • Evolution in the focus and activities of ERGs: Over the years, ERGs have evolved from just being groups focussing on mutual support for members to those making substantial contribution to the bottom line of the organization. ERG’s are now providing insights into the market place, teaching employees located in the remote locations nuances of doing business, acting as brand ambassadors for the organization and improving the company’s reputation through community contribution.


The 3P’s of ERGs

People: ERGs provide organizations with access to talent that is relevant and more engaged. For talent acquisition, evolved organizations put their ERGs to good use by consulting with them to recruit new hires. When ERG members connect with their alma-maters, provide testimonials and use their network, talk about the culture and prospects at the company, it helps to attract high quality talent. ERGs thus can be used for extremely targeted recruitment to hire like minded and high quality candidates who will be a good fit for the organization. In a survey conducted by Software Advice in the US, among the respondents, almost 70 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds noted that ERGs would positively impact their decision to apply, while over half (52 percent) of 25- to 34-year-olds said the same. The substantial difference between this age group and the others is an indication of the shifting winds in priorities of the future managers and leaders.

Likelihood to Apply at a Company With an ERG Program by Age
Likelihood to Apply at a Company With an ERG Program by Age

From talent retention stand-point, affinity networks provide a powerful medium to help employees stay connected, and overcome gaps by providing mentorship and guidance – lack of which is a key reason why employees leave organizations.

Likelihood to Stay at a Company With an ERG Program by Age
Likelihood to Stay at a Company With an ERG Program by Age

In the same survey, the data showed that well over half of respondents under the age of 44 noted they would be more likely to stay at a company offering ERGs.

Productivity: ERGs are an excellent way to keep employees engaged. By connecting people who share the same concerns, passions, and interests, ERGs help form employee networks that span the silos usually get created with the departmental hierarchy.

ERG Program’s Impact on Employee Engagement Levels
ERG Program’s Impact on Employee Engagement Levels

ERGs formed around topics/domains, help provide training and provide access to mentors to their members – an invaluable means of engaging and motivating employees who might otherwise find navigating the complex fabric of organizational hierarchy for information and advice, a daunting task. ERGs can also act as great tools for HR to help spot the ‘right’ talent required for various positions. For example, Air Products and Chemicals’ Asian American group developed the Building Bridges program to help Asian colleagues expatriated to the US make the transition and become more productive.

ERG Program’s Impact on Employee Engagement by Age
ERG Program’s Impact on Employee Engagement by Age

By providing members an alternative to the formal hierarchical system, ERGs can help employees to understand business nuances, organizational culture, provide mentoring to perform better at current tasks and also help prepare members to move up the corporate ladder to other roles – a matter understandably of substantial interest to the Gen-Y constituent of the workforce.

All of these advantages go a long way to help address engagement challenges and increase motivation and productivity of the members.

Profitability: At many organizations, resource groups have an important role as focus groups and innovators in understanding the market-place dynamics and providing insights which help the company launch new and successful products. Mattel used their African-American ERG to conceptualize and advice their product and marketing teams to launch a line of dolls specifically designed for African-American girls. Pharma major Merck created global-constituency groups in 2008 to connect with their local markets. McDonalds’s women leadership network had a major influence on the introduction of healthy menus in their restaurants.


ERGs ahoy then, is it?

Not quite. While ERGs do clearly have the potential to engage and motivate your workforce, it isn’t for everybody. Companies that are working with or planning to recruit and engage a younger workforce will find ERGs useful, not so much organizations that are formal, hierarchical and have an overwhelmingly older work force.

Companies with the most dynamic and successful ERGs attribute their success aligning the mission of the ERGs with the interests of employees and the executives. In addition these organizations are sensitive to the need for new ERGs that address multigenerational, multicultural, and other constituencies and work hard to actively market the ERGs to their employees and new hires.

ERGs succeed when they are adequately funded and held responsible for those funds. The leaders of these groups need to receive training and other support to manage the groups in a professional manner.

Glenn Llopis (subject matter expert and chairman of the Glenn Lopis group) underlines the importance of supporting an ERG in the company by having a senior executive who is fully invested in its success of the mission, lead the group.

Llopis goes on to say that the success of the ERG depends on a clear articulation of the mission:

“Our objective is to help our organization to best understand and leverage the unique talent, gender and/or cultural insights we bring to increase recruitment efforts by [X] percent, talent retention by [Y] percent and our employee community’s overall workplace engagement by [Z] percent.”

If clear and measurable objectives aren’t defined, Llopis says, the ERG “just becomes a social gathering that doesn’t add real value and makes it difficult to sustain participation.”

And it also depends where in the world you are:

Mercer in its study found that there are differences in the practices of ERGs depending on the location of the company. Companies located in or having its headquarters in the US tend to have a higher probability of having ERGs, while it’s a very new/non-existent practice in Asian countries.

The proliferation of social networks and other collaborative platforms in the enterprise environment coupled with the increase in presence of Gen-Y in the workforce will no doubt change the way ERGs communicate and recruit new members.

The best ERGs are those that create a safe environment where employees can discuss challenges, voice concerns and work on self improvement, career progression and self-actualization through community contribution. ERG’s are now evolving to help attract, empower, motivate and engage a diverse and younger workforce from diverse backgrounds and cultures, which has a direct and quantifiable impact on the bottom line in the increasingly global arena where boundaries are blurred and geographical locations are starting to hold lesser and lesser significance.

As Lopis says, “It’s about embracing the special skills and characteristics that may be attributed to one’s culture or to one’s ethnicity or to one’s gender that a company could be much more mindful of [while utilizing the] special intelligence … that particular group can deliver to the company’s overall strategy or business model.”

Acknowledgements and References for this post:

Image courtesy of, Graphs courtesy of HR & talent management technology resource Software Advice.

ERGs Come of Age:The Evolution of Employee Resource Groups, Mercer; Employee Resource Groups, Joseph C. Wilson, Wikipedia; Who Made America, Joseph Wilson,, The business benefits of Resource Groups, Diversity Inc; Your Secret Weapon: Employee Resource Groups, Linkage Leadership Blog, Xerox diversity timeline,; Survey: Employee Resource Groups help engage Gen-Y Workers, (Erin Osterhaus), New Talent Times.