Monday, April 15, 2013

Epiphany of the Day – The Importance of Differentiation

There are mainly two ways to take the advantage in a competitive market:

1. Offer a better solution

2. Offer a differentiated solution

This simple theoretical model could prove very valuable not just to companies, but to each and every one of us in our daily lives as well. In this instance, reading this little nugget triggered off a thought in me about my constant endeavors to write a meaningful blog.

A question I've been pondering for a long time, is how to compete with the thousands of blogs already out there that command wide readership? A big chunk of the answer quietly came to me from this know-bite: to be successful and command good readership, this blog will have to do two things, and do them consistently:

1. Provide good content (my habit of voracious reading and the years of field-experience in learning would be quite helpful here), and

2. Provide the reader a differentiated experience (which would mean offering the reader a strong and consistent style of blogging that could sound out over time as my own, 'different' style).

Viewed from this lens, this critical question of 'how to really make a difference with this blog' quickly breaks itself down from being a 'monolithic writer's block' into an open-ended series of quick actionable to-dos which, in this case, inspired me to write this little piece for the blog after a significant hiatus.

Now, the purpose and framework for this blog seems to be coming together quite nicely, and hopefully some good ideas can be expected to flow from this blog in the days to come.

An interesting question at this point, though: how do you see this 'better/differentiated' model helping you break through some of the mental blocks that you've been struggling with?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Message in a Bottle

I had struggled.

For years, I had grappled with the thought of starting a serious, meaningful blog.

Each time I tried, my mind would be inundated with questions: Why write a blog? To what purpose? Who would read it? Would it amount to empty self-aggrandisement? Was the trouble of maintaining a regular blog worth the benefits?

And I could sense the fear within. As much as a blog is a brilliant platform to showcase one's thinking and understanding, it also just as surely exposes one's limitations – the chinks in one's armor. Was I willing to risk such exposure in front of my colleagues, peers and seniors?

This time around, the imperative to start a blog had ostensibly been to expand my sphere of influence within the organization – but somehow, again, the keyboard just wouldn't sizzle.

And deeper down, resided another, more sinister thought. For any new habit to truly take hold, I knew, it had to necessarily resonate clearly in the psyche. There had to be that sparkling stream of authenticity that ran from deep within the soul, straight to the new idea. In other words, there had to be a deeper reason why I wanted to write a blog – a bigger 'cause' as it were, that my efforts might contribute toward; something that would make them worthwhile. And this 'deeper reason' to start a blog was proving elusive to find.

Yet, despite my repeated misgivings, the thought of writing a blog had resurfaced each time, remaining submerged just long enough for the misgivings to die down. I'd asked friends for their opinions on the topic; I'd read posts by other writers on why they had taken up blogging; I'd tried repeatedly – and futilely – to compose my first proper blog post. And yet, after each failure, there was that familiar thought again: why not write a blog?

The nudge I needed finally came from a conversation with a friend and colleague, Vibhuti Raghuvanshi. Why a blog, I asked her yesterday, having pulled her into a training room for an informal chat on the subject. What were her thoughts about why people wrote blogs? Did she write a blog? Why, or why not?

Vibhuti then gave me an example of a video link that I'd shared once on an on-line forum years ago. The video had been of Randy Pausch's 'Last Lecture' at CMU, before he succumbed to cancer. It had deeply touched, moved and inspired me at the time, and my intention in sharing it had been to simply pass on the inspiration to whoever else might need it. Vibhuti had chanced upon my post, and had been so inspired by the video that she had proceeded to talk to a large number of people about it, and share it in her own presentations to students and others. In other words, a random act of altruism through my hand had essentially led to a cascading waterfall of transformation for a large number of people that I had never met.

And then an allegory hit home.

Just a few days prior, I'd been holidaying with my family at the Vivanta in Trivandrum, in a sort of semi-annual family ritual. Sitting by the poolside, my wife and children had ribbed me in a good-natured way about my inability to swim. And I had attempted a half-excuse - if only to wriggle out of an uncomfortable spot - that I could certainly float, if not swim. So naturally, I had been called upon to demonstrate my prowess at that skill.

As I had made the attempt, I remembered how difficult it had been to let go of the pool edge and simply trust the water to hold me. Fear of consequence is a powerful motivator. It lies hidden until challenged, and then unleashes a force so potent that we rarely stray beyond the beaten paths marked out in front of us in life. But this self-preservative instinct also tends to tamp down initiative and risk-taking ability, which are the only real source of strength and progress in an ever-changing world.

And so it had been with blogging and me. A million questions – "Why blog? About what? Who's going to be interested in what I have to say?" and others, it appeared, had basically been my psyche's defense reaction in response to a fear of being 'exposed in public'. What was even more ironic, was that I've been in the public speaking industry for more than a decade, having delivered thousands of sessions and worked with tens of thousands of people. Logic dictated that I should have overcome such fear years ago. And yet, quite clearly, there it still was.

To return to the swimming pool allegory, all it required was the courage to slowly lift up one's feet, trust the water, and give the edge a gentle push. But that courage had to come from a conviction deep within, that the risk was somehow worth it – that in my case, writing a blog was somehow going to make a difference, to someone.

And then it came – the epiphany. I realized that sharing for me had always been an important value. I constantly share things on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn that I find interesting, insightful or simply funny, hardly pausing to worry about the impact it may have on my personal brand on these forums. Just like the protagonist in a poignant scene in that wonderful movie 'Life of Pi', I constantly throw bottles out into the ocean with little messages in them. The only difference is, Pi Patel's messages were of the 'SOS, please help me' variety, whereas mine usually speak of all the wondrous things that life has kindly afforded me, and that I would like to share with everyone else. And as long as I aim to 'express rather than impress', the magic seems to work.

In other words, what I needed to make this blog happen, was exactly what I had needed on every previous occasion that I had needed to make change happen: to reconnect with my authenticity, and to let go of the fear of failure, by welcoming in its place the opportunity for feedback and growth. Like Peter Pan jumping off a cliff, I had to simply feel genuinely happy and excited deep inside, and look forward.

And so, I took the plunge.

Now here I am, writing another message to put into another bottle. Only this time, the message is simple: a call to anyone who's reading this post, to start a blog. I think it's probably fine even if someone wrote just one blog entry so that the light of their experience may illuminate the life of others, however briefly. I think it's fine even if the language isn't perfect, or if you can't publish regularly, or if you will need help to polish your blog entries. The simple act of sharing is, in and of itself, its own reward.

Personally, I plan to use the many interesting conversations that I regularly have with my colleagues and friends as the fodder for blog posts.

And I suspect that there is gold in there, just begging to be found – and shared.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

If Rajni were the Head of the L&D Department ...

Rajni as the Head of L&D:
  • can close a performance gap with his fist
  • will kick any learning objective that starts with “understand”
  • has an employee number that is Pi to 32,000 decimal places
  • is invisible to the LMS…his training cannot be tracked
  • scares learning into performance results
  • measures his student’s time to proficiency in seconds
  • can squeeze the ROI out of any learning initiative
  • can make learning an event that you will never be able to forget
  • is the highest level proficiency within any competency
  • evaluates his training results at a Kirkpatrick Level 10
  • can blend learning with his bare hands
  • can deliver asynchronous training synchronously
  • can make you unlearn something by staring at you
  • will shoot your PowerPoint bullets back at you
  • can solve a problem using the same thinking he used to create the problem
  • delivers training as if all students have the same learning style – pain
  • doesn’t care who started the learning myth…he’ll finish it
  • doesn't have time for the ADDIE model - only uses the last three letters - DIE
  • Business goals align to Rajni's learning needs
  • SCORM is Rajni compliant
  • Telling is not training ... unless Rajni tells you something
  • People would rather die than role play with Rajni
  • The company had to onboard to Rajni when he arrived
  • The only spatial learning you need to worry about is to get out of Rajni's space
(Note: Due credit to from where the above content was taken, though there it refers to Rajni by his US Avatar - Chuck Norris)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

LinkedIn Question: Do closed pay-packets drive Performance/ Competition or Discrimination/Exploitation?


Consider the employment contract as a private business deal, between the employer on the one part and employee on the other. Should then the details of all private business deals in the country be made public in the name of transparency?

One gets what one can negotiate. The current system of closed pay packets is a self-authenticating language that has evolved over ages. Attempting to 'even the playing field' by making pay packets open would not work to motivate or retain the right people, as one man's perception of 'fair play' does not match another's.

Those that know how to play the game (read 'successful professionals') view closed pay packets as an 'entry barrier' that they have learnt how to overcome. If someone wanted to find out what figure they should be making, given a particular industry, year, their experience and specialisation, they most certainly could - if they knew where to look, whom to ask and how.

The average and poor performers, on the other hand, would have good reason to justify their performance no matter what kind of system they work in.

Now consider the alternative:
What if there were open pay packets in an organisation?

This would only work to motivate the right people, if performance in every role could be measured and compared on objective terms. Promotion to a higher pay cadre might then be perceived as 'fair' by the majority of the average and high-performing employees.

This, however, is not practical for most industries and companies.

Bottom line: closed pay packets drive performance and competition, but as a part of a larger system that includes compensation benchmarking, good talent management practices, focus on learning, and strong visionary leadership.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

LinkedIn Question: Key Account Management: What most often gets overlooked?

The question in detail:

There are so many different KAM courses in which experienced sales people are trained / educated / retrained / re-educated and otherwise coached in how to sell. There's SPIN selling, there's Funnel selling, there's Miller Heiman selling, there's every form of selling imaginable, but still in my opinion there's something missing...

For me it's all about PEOPLE and when KAM courses get hung up on processes and systems, I think that they fundamentally overlook the people dynamic - to sell you have to build a relationship, to build a relationship you have to relate to people, to relate to people you have to understand them, to understand them you have to yourself, etc.

Is it my imagination or should every course on KAM, every book and every YouTube video on Sales not come equipped with a mandatory mirror?

Thoughts, comments and opinions welcome!

Clarification: And of course the answer to the rhetorical question is "understand" in other words what most often gets overlooked is the "understand yourself" piece!


Key Account Management is very different from Account Management. While the overall objectives remain Reach, Extraction and Depth, the Key Account Manager is required to go much further in establishing and building the relationship between his/her organisation and the client, at various levels. He/she becomes the fulcrum around which the service provider engages the client strategically as well as operationally.

This means not just 'better selling', but a whole of lot of changes in the internal systems and processes of the service provider, centered around the Key Account Managers.

Of course the people dynamic is critical to the success of a KAM initiative. But we must understand that KAM is essentially about building systems in the company that:

  1. Take advantage of the people dynamic at different levels in the best possible way, and
  2. Bring stability and scalability to the KAM relationship thus built.

LinkedIn Question: From a HR perspective, what is the difference between a Manager and a Leader? and which is more important is this day and age?

The managerial function involves using today's resources to solve today's problem. The leadership function is about developing today's resources to solve the problems of tomorrow.

An undermanaged, over-led company would descend into chaos; an over-managed, under-led company would find itself irrelevant within a short period. Thus both are critical, but at different proportions at different levels in the organisation.

Most important, there is no ‘HR Perspective’ in this day and age – there is, and always has been, only the ‘Business Perspective’!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

LinkedIn Question: What are the ‘minimal training days’ criteria followed by different companies?


This question could be answered in many ways ... but the answers may not be what one expects.

One way of answering this question is from the traditional training metrics point of view – we did 20 days per employee of classroom training last year, and so we should do the same thing this year too.

But here’s a problem with that approach: is your market situation this year, the same as it was last year? Is your company going to sell the same products or services to the same people in the same way this year, as it did in the last? And is it going to produce those products or services the same way this year, as in the last?

The simple answer to all these questions: Probably not.

Then, why should the ‘number of training days’ for this year bear any connection to the previous year’s figure?

'Training' is a part of 'Learning', which ought to be tightly linked to organisational strategy. If you could articulate the strategy, business needs and performance needs of your company, a Learning consultant might be able to boil that down to 'number of training days per employee' for the current year, after an appropriate Learning strategy, plan and the Learning events calendar have been created.

This number could vary significantly between industries, companies and from year to year, because every company's strategy is different, and evolves from year to year.

To quote a parallel: “What is the minimum number of days companies take to achieve their targets?”

Well, doesn’t that depend on which company, what target and when?

Friday, September 17, 2010

The 4 Minute Mile

(Author Unknown)


Recollect the four minute mile. People had been trying to achieve it since the days of ancient Greeks. In fact, folk lore has it that the Greeks had lions chase the runners thinking that that would make them run faster. They also tried drinking tiger’s milk. Nothing they tried worked. So they decided it was impossible for a person to run a mile in four minutes. For over a thousand years every one believed it. Our bone structure is all wrong, wind resistance is too great. We have inadequate lung power. There were abundant reasons.

Then one man proved that the doctors, the trainers and the thousands of athletes were all wrong. In 1954, when Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile myth, it was a miracle. The year after seven other runners broke the four minute mile. The year after three hundred runners broke the four minute mile. After a few years the record was ninety percent. Now it is every runner’s record.

What happened? There were no great breakthroughs in physical training. No one discovered how to control wind resistance. Human bone structure, lung power and physiology didn’t improve suddenly.

But the human attitude did that.

Let go of the minor to have more energy to focus on the major.

Top Five Regrets of the Dying

By Bronnie Ware

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people have had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honor at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.


2. I wish I didn’t work so hard

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.


3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.


4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.


5. I wish that I had let myself be happier

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

LinkedIn Question: What is more effective - having an in-house dedicated training team or outsourcing training to an external training vendor?


The answer is: Depends!

The real question is, would you want to play:
(a) The niche game (the internal team will provide consulting services and handle specialised requirements and overall coordination, while most generic and some specific needs will be outsourced) or
(b) The volume game (the internal team will take care of all the bulk training needs and overall coordination, while niche needs including analysis and measurement of those needs will be outsourced)?

There is no correct answer to this question - each organisation needs to find its own answer. Some of the decision parameters are given below:
1. What is your organisation's mandate for the internal L&D team size? What is your organisation's mandated L&D budget?
2. Are the right kind of resources available in your market at the price you can afford to pay, particularly for certain niche skills?
3. Can you groom your internal team to become not only great trainers but also effective consultants?

There are both types of outsourced vendors - those that play the volume game, and those that play the niche game. Also usually outsourced vendors do a better job of resource utilisation and consequently work out cheaper overall.

However the challenge is to find a few vendors that can integrate deeply with your organisation and pace with its changing needs, while maintaining consistent quality. These vendors should be able to deliver operational excellence in respect of the bulk requirements, and also have specialist credibility for catering to the senior and specialised levels. Such vendors are very few. Consider: how many vendors exist today who can credibly offer end-to-end training solutions for an organisation with national presence?

My preferred path would be, to view the Learning function as an independent business unit providing four inter-dependent but distinct services: Consulting, Training Operations, Training Delivery and Content Development. Keeping quality paramount, I would analyse the case to outsource or retain each and work out an appropriate mix for my organisation. And in all possibility, this mix will constantly change as availability of resources varies.

- Kaustav