Tuesday, 19 January 2016

At Work, LOL!

It was a new job, loads to learn and fast. I was constantly juggling multiple tasks and fighting deadlines; needless to say trying to fit into the system and getting my head around the very many ‘processes’, if you catch my drift. This was serious stuff and had no room for error. The result, all work with no time to catch my breath, constant meetups, many MOMs, and countless tasks to follow up on.

During one such meeting, my manager concluded a serious discussion with the punchline,
“…it’s like making a vampire the caretaker of a blood bank…”
You may think I have a warped sense of humour, but this cracked me up. A gale of laughter erupted, and the tension about the whole issue dissipated. After a few giggles, we both got back to work with relatively more ease than ever before.

Having a good sense of humour is a quality that is always underrated, or rather, is never articulated when it comes to developing managerial skills. No business school has ever dedicated a course or part of it to developing a sense of humour in their curricula. For some people, there’s no grey area when it comes to a good sense of humour; you either have it or you don’t.

There is no universal definition for humour either. It is culture specific; what may seem hilarious to an American may be considered impudent in Japan. And, it is context specific. The type of jokes that would appeal to a marketer and a financial advisor are different. The Humour Code deals with this subjectivity of humour at length. A catch phrase would be considered funny when it’s wrong yet okay, unsettling yet acceptable, and threatening yet safe. If this principle in particular is ignored, there is a far greater probability for attempts at humour to go awry or in certain cases, horribly wrong. So, is it possible for managers to use humour in order to manage better? If so, why?
1.   Trust
Applying this principle gives an impression that the manager is not oblivious to the employee’s plight. Hence, is a very good way of earning the team’s/subordinate’s trust.

2.   Engage easily
Managers who use this strategy coupled with an understanding of the counterpart’s psychology engage easily and are adept at creating and maintaining transparency among the team.

3.   Creates a jovial organisational climate
Humour is essential merely because it make people laugh and connect; workplace happiness is a very essential element in employee satisfaction and therefore, retention.

4.   Are more emotionally intelligent
Managers who can successfully do this are deemed emotionally intelligent which is the building block of people management.

The good news is that a sense of humour can be developed, although it requires a little effort in seeing things with a new perspective. A lot of books probe into it, focussing on jokes and what kind of humour makes people laugh. Unfortunately, they fall short in offering an insight into how these can be employed in today’s global workplace. That will only come with a lot of interpersonal communication, experience, and numerous failed attempts at humour. In short, epigrammatic (peers, subordinates), highbrow (like-minded), self-deprecating (peers), or deadpan (superiors, peers, subordinates) are all acceptable at a workplace provided they be executed with extreme caution in order to avoid going overboard with them. On the other hand, aggressive humour is best left alone.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

I’ve faked it… Do I really have it in me to ever make it?

“I’m not nearly as good enough,” declared an ex-colleague unequivocally.  I stared at him wide-eyed, thinking of what to say next. This is the man everyone was all praises about. This man knew his job and did it well. And yet he stood there with an apparent air of ineptitude. Humility, I assessed. His next sentence stunned me though.
“Anytime now; they’ll know I’m a fake… and my career is over.”

This wasn’t the emotion of humility; this had a much deeper psychological connotation. If a constant feeling of being undeserving of your success nags you too, then you’re among the likes of Chuck Lorre (Big Bang Theory fame), Meryl Streep… and many other high achievers who suffer from the imposter syndrome.

On one hand, being a neurotic imposter can drive people to perform at the best of their ability. But it also signifies a feeling of incompetence that lurks in the background, which may sabotage the prospects of a thriving career. This is reason enough for managers to recognise early signs and help the confident achiever in you overcome the neurotic imposter. 
Neurotic imposters stand out by displaying very stereotypical behavioural traits.

  • NIs are workaholics. They strive to achieve the unrealistic goals they set for themselves.
  • They are perfectionists. This is the main reason behind them being less inclined to delegate tasks and often micromanage their team.
  • They often cannot mentor. Their attitude to micromanage often gives an impression that they do not trust their team members.
  • They ‘feel’ incompetent. They’re constantly plagued by a feeling of not living up to expectations.
  • They often attribute their success to external factors, like luck. Therefore there is an evident lack of self-confidence.

It’s important to understand that the imposter syndrome develops with certain experiences. A neurotic imposter may have been bullied during childhood, or their abilities fell short before an advantaged rival. Feelings of insecurity may also creep in when people are promoted or trusted with a gamut of other responsibilities, triggered mostly by the fear of failure; the higher you climb, the scarier it gets. Whatever the reason, it’s important to nip the imposter syndrome in the bud.
The first step to remedying any condition is its identification. Now that you decided to continue reading further itself suggests that you may have associated with the condition. Here is a list of some simple strategies that can be employed to counteract the imposter syndrome.
Focus on the end result and communicate it: Don’t rush into things. Set some time aside to lay out a plan with the end result in mind and relay it to your team. Outline what you want and to what standard. There should be a dialogue which reveals what is realistically achievable and how.

Focus on your achievements: You might often feel that you mount up to nothing, especially when in reception of a negative feedback. This is the right time to muse over your past achievements and draw the drive to succeed from them. Negative feedbacks are constructive feedbacks often conveyed in the wrong words.

Allow yourself time to learn and apply what you learn: Every new opportunity is a chance to apply what you’ve learnt in the past and learn new things. Allow yourself the luxury of making mistakes. Remember you are a learner.

Set SMART goals: It is important to consider whether the goals you set are achievable.

Accept assistance: Part of this come from trusting in the abilities of your team members and delegating tasks that they can perform without having sleepless nights. This will also give a chance to your team members to learn something new. Et voila! You have a more effectual team.

Balance your work life: Teamwork is sharing of responsibility which does not disrupt work-life balance. Once realistic goals are set and tasks delegated, it’s easy and worthwhile to strike a balance between professional and personal lives.

Ask for feedback: Your superiors are not the only ones who are likely to give you feedback. Consider asking your subordinates for constructive feedback too. They might offer a whole new perspective on things that might surprise you.   

Take credit: As important as it is to give others credit for jobs done well, it is important to take credit for one’s achievements. What one accomplishes is a direct result of the effort one puts in. So give yourself a pat on the back sometimes; you’ve earned it.

Lastly, it’s important to understand that ridding yourself of the imposter syndrome is a process, and will require constant effort from your end. It requires you to change your perspective and know that you can’t control everything. Simultaneously, it should be an enjoyable journey; not a stressed achievement rampage. 

Friday, 6 November 2015

Lips Don’t Lie

When Scarlett O’Hara asked Mammy to make her a flattering dress out of the portieres, she had a very specific purpose in mind; to charm Rhett Butler. It’s a pity she didn’t use the lipstick instead.

The real reason behind a simple incident born in the thoughts of Margaret Mitchell in 1939, and was lost equally easily in the pages of ‘Gone with the Wind,’ was elaborated upon by a curious group of researchers almost seven decades later.

Amidst the 2008 recession when unemployment went through the roof and a great many companies, in almost all sectors, registered record plummeting of sales, one industry did not just stay afloat but actually saw an increase of almost 6% in sales. This was none other than the cosmetic titan, L’Oréal. Those who sat to speculate could not attribute L’Oréal’s success to any incredible business strategy; rather the answer came from evolutionary psychology, especially the mating psychology of women and may be, lies somewhere in our concept of beauty.

Make-up, especially lipstick, is not a vain modern invention. Tinting lips in face decoration has played a very important role in civilizations for thousands of years. Both men and women of the Ancient Sumerian civilization used gemstone powder, a luxury only the rich could afford, to tint lips in an attempt to attract the opposite sex; a very powerful emotion in evolutionary psychology of mankind.

Each civilisation has witnessed periods of abundance and scarcity alike. Where periods of abundance may trigger different mating patterns in humans, ferocious competition arises during scarcity. Beautification during scarcity was mainly to attract a resourceful mate. This principle pretty much holds true even today. Signs and symbols that were explicit in the ancient times may have been reduced to mere innuendoes as the world has progressed and has become more civilized, nonetheless, have not been wiped out and never will. Scarcity in the ancient world, which could be the times of famines or droughts, signified a man’s inability to provide food for his mate and offsprings. For single women, it also meant nonavailability of quality mates. So during these times, the efforts to attract a quality male partner are amplified. Today it entails unemployment or lack of monetary support and security that a man can provide, which is often the case during economic recessions.

‘The lipstick effect’ as it was termed, apparently had not occurred for the first time in 2008. During the Great Depression (1929-33) cosmetic sales rose while US industrial production was cut by 50%. All employees in Beiersdorf kept their jobs while unemployment was on the rise in Germany. Japan saw a 10% rise in the sales of accessories while the disposable income remained stagnant or has even reduced since 1997. Stock market investors can rest assured if they have invested in the cosmetics industry. This is a recession-proof industry; numbers don’t lie.

While the hypotheses itself falls short on the number of factors that are at play in the game of attraction; it does present an aspect of human behaviour and the primal instincts of homo sapiens. It articulates the importance of security needs which is pretty much ingrained in our DNA. 

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Your true love is not on Tinder!

When a colleague narrated her successful ‘I-met-my-husband-online’ story to a mixed bunch of us, relationship status ranging from singles to complicated to married; I blurted out, “Girl, you were just among the lucky 8%.” The rest of the evening was a haze. Every time I passed a single, their eyes shot daggers at me.

My grandparents had had an arranged marriage; they lived happily until my granddad passed away. Not just them, I can cite a lot of examples from the greatest generation, the Baby Boomers, and the Gen X with the same success story. All these accounts however, share one thing in common; none of them happened online. In this advanced information age, however, love is just a click away, or so they say.

Pew Research Center reveals some startling statistics about marriage and relationship statuses. In 1960, 59% adults of marriageable age were married compared to just a 20% in 2011. 64% adults of marriageable age today are neither married nor living with a partner. There has also been a 0.3% decrease in the number of people having more than one sexual partner from 1988-96 to 2002-10.

It’s not that Millennials don’t want to get married (61% actually do want to get married someday) or do not value a lasting romantic relationship (8 out of 10 value a genuine relationship). To help this woebegone generation find love, there are about 3000 websites offering online dating services. And 1 in 5 adults actually makes use of these religiously. Then why do statistics indicate otherwise.
The answer is ‘Analysis Paralysis’.

Too many choices
According to Forbes, in US alone there are about 1000 new options for dating every year. That means 1 thousand more potential partners at any given time. Choices can be overwhelming and a thousand is a fairly large number. Psychology proves that the more options available for a given situation, the less likely it is to derive at a concrete conclusion and the more likely is the choice to go awry. Humans are subconsciously aware of this and therefore there is less effort to hold onto a relationship with a match found online. Hence, a rise in the number of short term relationships.

Selection criteria
In the real world, you decide whether you want a relationship with a person based on the how much you like them. In the virtual world, apart from an extraordinarily pretty profile picture, there are a myriad other criteria to consider; even favourite colour may serve as one.

There are many profiles present that are poles apart from the actual person. This can lead to serious misjudgement and even heartache for those who wear their heart on their sleeves. But who exactly, is to blame for this? Again, when dating online, people are at a loss of genuine human contact. They are choosy given the wide selection criteria and based on petty criterion, may write off a potential match as incompatible.

There may be someone better out there
There’s always a nagging feeling about the many potential matches out there that a person may miss out on once they've found someone reasonably compatible. This not only makes the current engagement a trial but also reduces the amount of effort they’d be ready to put into the relationship to make it work.  

Lastly, all the fuss about finding the 'right' match leads to stress and in many cases depression. It shouldn't come as a surprise that most Millennials have managed to stay out of serious relationships for so long, or use dating sites only for flings. If you find this piece of truth disturbing, then a sensible thing to do would be to get offline. Try the jogger's park or the library instead. There are more chances of getting connected with a soul mate here than anywhere online.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Is Intuitive Decision Making Hyped?

You wouldn’t have to think hard if I asked you to cite an instance when you took a split second decision without probing into the facts and it turned out to be spot-on. While the inability to produce a reason in this advanced evidential age could be particularly vexatious for your pragmatically driven mind, people still laud your exactitude. Well, you just knew.
You just know a business decision would turn out to be a disaster because of a clenched gut, or a hunch tells you that a prospective candidate would have personality clashes with other team members; or a sense of contentment that sets a long term friendship in motion. And yet, a majority of us ignore that bleak alarm that sets off in the back of our heads.  
Managers make decisions based on intuition almost on a daily basis; only this phenomenon is rarely acknowledged. When it comes to bigger, wider, and strategic decisions, there is heavy reliance on numbers and statistics, psychometric tests, and other scientific tools, which are not only time consuming but also bombard the decision maker with a lot of irrelevant information which may cloud the process or worse, inspire a wrong decision.  
Conversely, intuition is not characteristic of everyone alike. Secondly, it is important not to confuse a colleague’s influence, workplace power dynamics, or mere likeness towards a person as intuitive prompts. Besides, the accuracy of intuitive decisions is way more important than their frequency. Imagine if your were to justify an important business deal gone awry and you’d say you just knew?? Then, is it possible to rely solely on this holistic method of decision making as so many researches are advocating? Are women better intuitive decision makers than men? Should you be able to play chess like a grand master to be able to master the art of intuition. The answer to all these questions is ‘No’ and here’s why.

The more it is used, the better it gets; so does experience.
Intuitive advocates opine that to be able to make accurate decisions, you need to be more in tune with yourself; the more you listen to it, the clearer the voice gets. Decision making is more of a trial and error in the beginning. The more experience you have, the more you’ll understand where to look for loopholes. That scenario is anyway conducive to the accuracy of a decision.
The more quantifiable the outcome; the easier it is to predict.
Intuitive prediction cannot quantify outcomes. A product you’ve just invented has immense potential to take over the market.  But you can’t launch it just because you know it’ll work. You will need a thorough study of your target market and some numbers from the test launch to predict its sales potential.
You cannot know what you don't know.
The unconscious and subconscious minds are reservoirs of past experiences. Intuition draws on these experiences to be able to work. Therefore, decisions outside of familiar territory may not be accurate. 
Good decision making is an art. No one decision making technique can prove effective in all sorts of scenarios. Decision makers may need to concoct a recipe of various techniques to predict with precision. And as one of the great minds of our time said "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

Friday, 25 September 2015

Incompetent Boss Decoded

After a gap of almost 5 years, I recently got in touch with a former colleague, thanks to social media. We recalled our time working together and chatted about how our respective careers and families had kept us busy. After a tête-a-tête about life in general, we ended up talking about our work life. It’s inevitable not to; we spend half our lives at work. A mere hint at a boss and employee's volatile relationship probably hit a raw nerve; she exploded with antagonism. I let her vent her feelings out, then asked her what exactly frustrated her so much. She replied, 'He is so incompetent; just can’t do his job right….' The next interrogative uttered thoughtlessly in an attempt to hold the conversation, which I regretted almost immediately, set her off again.
She was overworked, sandwiched between deadlines; and above all, micromanaged. ‘Is your company expanding? Maybe everyone’s overworked,’ I tried to appease her. 'No', she retorted, ‘he simply doesn't know how to do stuff.’
Most of us would identify with her. Every once in a while we come across supervisors who seem incompetent. Although ‘incompetence’ is a very harsh word, we hurl it at anyone who seems to fail at their job. I would rather say unskilled. Incompetence is relative; Skills are integral. Where technical and transferable skills can be honed further, personal skills are mostly inherent.
Having an unskilled boss isn't exactly a bad thing unless of course they suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect. Let’s examine the three categories of unskilled bosses, and what can be done about it.
Technical Skills
Take the IT sector as an example. The information age has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last two decades. Most employees who began as individual contributors some fifteen years ago are now in middle and high ranking positions. The technology they last worked on is either dead or has undergone an unrecognisable facelift. Besides, once the roles change from technical to managerial, it is hard to keep abreast with the ongoing market currencies.
What you can do: Take charge! Such supervisors are more common than you’d think. When a technically less skilled but receptive supervisor is paired with a technically skilled team, it’s a win-win situation for all.  The work environment is progressive and there is something for everyone to learn.
Transferable Skills
These skills range from hard skills like simply being able to operate MS Office to soft skills like being a good communicator. Most of the supervisors who lack transferable skills have most likely not stayed very long in a single organisation or have been there for far too long.
What you can do: Buckle up to produce 16-hrs. of work in half the time. You will most likely not be given credit for the copious amount of work that you accomplish on a daily basis, but it’s a great opportunity to learn as much as possible. It’s an opportunity to pro-actively take responsibility for tasks that are not listed in your job description, empower your profile and make a move to a better opportunity, internally or externally.
Personal Skills
These are indispensable in any work scenario.  Even the most expendable individual contributor is expected to have at least some personal skills in order to coexist and work effectively in an organisation. People with exceptional personal skills coupled with the right technical skills and relevant experience are mostly well liked and climb the corporate ladder much faster than others. Look up some prominent leaders. They all have one thing in common; they are charismatic and adept orators. Skills like teamwork, ability to trust and motivate others, patience, empathy, and good communication skills are only to name a few. However, these skills are mostly inherent or honed over a long period of time. The more you rub shoulder with the right influencers, the more you will cultivate your personal skills.
What you can do: Take the initiative to communicate from your end. Request regular catch-ups with your supervisor. Being detailed and prepared before any meeting would be an ideal thing to do. Ask for one-on-one feedback sessions intermittently. If you are confronted with an issue, the exigency of which doesn't seem to sink in with your boss, be patient and present your explanation in a discussion. Work on your emotional quotient; it’s imperative when dealing with unreceptive and unresponsive supervisors.
The image of a perfect boss is an illusion. Imperfection provides a lot of room for people to learn new skills and progress in their careers. It’s important to understand that most of these shortcomings aren't deliberate. They are a part of their personalities or projections of their deepest insecurities.
I kept thinking about my friend’s incompetent boss long after our conversation. It’s evidence enough of our narrow outlook and how often we term the poor fish incompetent based on its ability to climb a tree.