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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Taking a trip down the NITIE lane

 Going back to our places of education is always quite an experience. While I haven’t paid a visit to my engineering college, I can relate to this feeling from the visits that I have had to my 2 schools. This part here, is to appreciate that experience of the gentlemen that I am going to be talking about. After all, this is one of the very few days when time seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

  It all started with a single mail. We were told that we would be given a guest lecture by two of our alumni on the subsequent Saturday. While our initial reactions were of irritation at the prospect of our weekend getting disturbed, we came around to the idea eventually. In fact, we were all buzzing with enthusiasm when Dr. Mandi walked in with a neat looking gentleman and gestured us to take our seats. We had our first look at Mr. Nikhil, who I understand is a Manager at KPMG Consulting, and immediately our ears were attentive to what he was starting to say. He started out with the question of why the lot of us were present at NITIE at that moment of time. A lot of commonly heard answers in MBA schools came forth and some were even specific to the forte of NITIE. Nothing untoward came about and the general consensus was that everyone was there to get a good job. The question shifted to entrepreneurship and this was where the fun started. People were asked about whether they wanted to become entrepreneurs and if so, why. A lot of answers like freedom, satisfaction, money, power, accountability, passion were thrown around and everyone seemed to agree with what the other person had to say. Mr. Nikhil went on to dissect this information and assured us that after a couple of years, even a manager’s job will be as challenging as what an entrepreneur looks for. The takeaway for us, was this: ‘Don’t become an entrepreneur for the wrong reasons. Not because you have a bad boss, not because you have tight working hours and not because you hate your job. Become one for the right reason and you will have the stomach to take everything that it throws at you.’
Having said that, he moved on to his presentation. I, personally, was interested in knowing what he had in his presentation because the title slide said this: ‘What they don’t teach you at’. While the place of concern needs not an explicit mention, the point of interest was what other things we could learn. It started with an interesting slide with two cartoons representing two students standing on the two sides of an emblem which read ‘Mastishk’. We heard this term throughout the event and for those who’re wondering what it is: It is a Business simulation event that is part of Prerana, the management fest of NITIE. It was during his talk about this that his friend and co-founder of Mastishk, Hemanth, walked in to join us. He started off with two questions: 1) what is the NITIE sarovar? 2)  What is called the ladder of success? It was quite clear that he was a bundle of energy and there was an obvious difference and an inherent completeness in the way the two of them went about the activity. Testimony to this, is the fact that ‘Mastishk’ was their brain-child in their second year and they went against a lot of flak together and succeeded in making it a reality. It was during this phase of explanation that I realized the importance of the gift of time that has been endowed to us as NITIE students. It was quite clear that how we used that time could figure out what we eventually become.
The importance of taking such activities up, was stressed enough by Hemanth and Nikhil. Both of them mentioned that their final interviews were centered around what they had done as organizers and creators of Mastishk. We were initially intrigued by the validity of this. Hemanth came on to answer our unraised questions: we face a lot of decision making dilemmas that we would in a corporate organization, in a committee like Mastishk. Nikhil was quick to come up with the example of choosing between two employees for a promotion and relating it to selecting a fellow student for a role in a committee.  We were shown the original business model of Mastishk and it was awe inspiring to hear the creators talk about their creation. Given here is the website of Mastishk and a small video on the concept of online b-school events.

There were a lot of subtle takeaways for us. Some were about the importance of winning the confidence of our subordinates. Some was about the importance of spending time on knowing stuff. We were told about the concept of ‘Google before you gargle’ and reminded about the importance of using the internet in the right manner. We were told to keep the NITIE flag flying high and the importance of taking the value out of what the professors had to give even though some of their ideas might seem irrational at that point in time. Nikhil suggested some movies and inspirational books to read and it just reminded me how much I missed reading and convinced me to make it a point to read atleast one book a month. The final slide had the best message of all:
‘Be Inquisitive and Enthusiastic throughout. This will result in Creativity. Then comes Competence. But without Consistency, even competence cannot result in Credibility’

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Building towers and being ‘SMART’ about it!

Ask a 10 year old kid, what a goal is? Do you see him shaking his head? No? I am sure you hear him mention some generic words about mission, vision etcetera? In fact, I would wager 10 bucks that that would be the answer most of the grown-ups would give as well. I had an interesting class last week, where we were explained the concepts of these goals with a practical example. And how did we spice it up? We made it ‘IPL’ style where students were asked to bid on specific tower companies. Let us not get carried away by the fun part though. The important thing here is to understand how to set a goal. Clearly, that is the first thing a lot of people do. Without knowing how to do so, that is.

When the word SMART was used along with ‘goal’ I scratched my head in confusion. I did not have to be in an MBA class to know that a goal should be smart. But my confusion was short lived as I came to know that SMART actually was an acronym. Let us look at each of the individual letters and its corresponding expansion.

S – Specific:
                      ‘To generalize is to be an idiot’ - William Blake

This stresses the need for being specific while setting goals. A problem with a lot of goals is that they are extremely generic. Making a goal specific makes it more clear and unambiguous. The next question is how to make a goal specific.  A specific goal, would answer the 5 W questions:    What: What do I want to accomplish?
    Why: Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.
    Who: Who is involved?
    Where: Identify a location.
    Which: Identify requirements and constraints. 

In our tower building exercise, we were asked to give out a plan for our tower company and it was very obvious that our goals had to be specific. In such a case, a specific goal like 'I want to build a tower of 50 blocks in this particular location by a person named X with red bricks in order to impress people' is much more likely succeed than a generic goal like ‘I want to earn money’.

M- Measurable:

               "What gets measured gets done, what gets measured and fed back gets done well, what gets rewarded gets repeated."

                    U.S Federal judge, John E Jones sure knew what he was talking about, when he said this, about the importance of measurement. A goal definitely has to be measurable because unless the destination is not measurable, the progress can never be measured and improved upon. Measuring progress is supposed to help a team stay on track, reach its target dates, and experience the exhilaration of achievement that spurs it on to continued effort required to reach the ultimate goal.
A measurable goal will usually answer questions such as:
·         How much?
·         How many?
·         How will I know when it is accomplished?
 In the tower building exercise, imagine how a goal like ‘I want to build tall towers’ would have sounded like! If, on the other hand, the goal is to build a tower 50 blocks high, the team would clearly be able to judge its progress and also judge how far it has to go.

A- Achievable:

                        The importance of a goal being achievable and attainable can’t be stressed enough. The policy of ‘Aim for the skies, you will atleast reach the clouds’ won’t work well with goal setting. This does not mean that the goal should be so easily achievable that the teams need not stretch them. An Achievable goal can be thought of as one which motivates the team and still doesn’t demotivate them by being daunting.
An attainable goal will usually answer the question:

  •  How: How can the goal be accomplished?
In the exercise, the goal which was deemed achievable was one which was consistent with the previous achievements in the same exercise in spite of being challenging. 

R- Relevant:

                             There was a funny example that I came across while looking up the importance of relevance in goal setting. Consider this: “Make 50 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by 2:00pm”. This goal definitely satisfies all the previous criteria for goal setting. But relevance comes into the picture when we pause to look at who has set this goal. Would this be relevant for a sportsperson? Relevance is extremely important for determining where the goal attainment would take the organization. The goal should be relevant in the context of the organization’s goals. Only if that is the case would the employees be motivated for achieving it. It is relevance that makes a goal worthwhile.

In the exercise, a goal of ‘Having the floor clean’ would not have been relevant.

T- Time bound:

                               The fifth criterion stresses the importance of grounding goals within a time frame, giving them a target date. A commitment to a deadline helps a team focus their efforts on completion of the goal on or before the due date. This part of the SMART goal criteria is intended to prevent goals from being overtaken by the day-to-day crises that invariably arise in an organization. A time-bound goal is intended to establish a sense of urgency.

A time-bound goal will usually answer the question:
     What can I do six months from now?
     What can I do six weeks from now?
     What can I do today?

Even our goals in the tower building activity required that we complete the activity within 20 minutes. Removing the concept of time from goals makes them lose their value.  

Only ‘Three monks’ and yet so many lessons!

As part of a learning activity, I was asked to watch this animation movie, ‘Three monks’ the other day. I was taken aback by how something so simple, could convey so much meaning. A Chinese feature film shot in the aftermath of the fall of the notorious ‘Gang of four’ in 1976, it is a movie which has a subtle and yet strong message. The lack of dialogues makes it an ideal candidate for anyone regardless of their vernacular. It also has animations which children would appreciate making it an ideal lesson for children at a very young age.
To give a brief idea about the plot of the film, it is based on the ancient Chinese proverb "One monk will shoulder two buckets of water, two monks will share the load, but add a third and no one will want to fetch water”. A young monk lives a simple life in a temple on top of a hill. He has one daily task of hauling two buckets of water up the hill. He tries to share the job with another monk, but the carry pole is only long enough for one bucket. The arrival of a third monk prompts everyone to expect that someone else will take on the chore. Consequently, no one fetches water though everybody is thirsty. At night, a rat comes to scrounge and then knocks the candle-holder  leading to a devastating fire in the temple. The three monks finally unite together and make a concerted effort to put out the fire. Since then they understand the old saying "unity is strength" and begin to live a harmonious life. The temple never lacks water again.
Now that I have talked enough about the movie, let me dive right into what I could interpret from it. Each of the point mentioned here would first talk about the implication that I derived and also how I have faced it in my life.

From Craftsman to a team:
It was really refreshing to see the first monk worshiping the deity with so much vigor and zeal. But it is quite obvious that after a couple of days, he finds it monotonous and lacks the motivation to do anything. This is very much the case with a lot of craftsmen who are all alone in their battles against life and regardless of how good they are at their job, their perspective is minimized which results in the lack of a vision in what they’re doing. But it is quite clear that when the team is established, the monks get a common purpose and end up rejoicing what they are doing. While I have not really had any craftsmanship experience, I have often found that forming a team helps in enjoying the little things more and also gives a second perspective to what we do. This can come in handy, while facing any problem or while trying to scale up into a larger magnitude.

The need for a standard:
There is a single incident in the movie where when the first two monks are measuring the stick with their hands, the find differences in the resultant measurement. It was then that the first monk got the idea of using a scale. While the importance of this in the movie was not emphasized much, I’d like to say this: Our lives have become so much simpler because of the existence of standard units of measurement. Imagine weighing vegetables and computers through nothing but our hands!

Every team has a problem, and there is a definite solution.
“People who are winning at working don't ignore the problems they encounter.” 
While this was said by some intelligent gentleman who knew what he was talking about, I think all of us can relate to this. In the movie, even though we see that none of the monks are evil (there are actually instances of each of them showing kindness to a living thing), they end up having problems and misunderstandings when they start working together. And what next? They find the solutions which make their life much easier. Differences in personalities of people always results in the initial friction but this is the place where the manager needs to utilize his expertise in order to make them work together on a problem and give the team a chance to click. In fact, this is a direct application of the Pygmalion effect that we saw in the previous post. I,  personally, have been in a lot of situations where there were initial frictions in the teams that I worked for, but eventually the chemistry kicked in and everything becomes normal and in fact, better.

Three is greater than one.
In fact any positive integer other than one itself, is. We see this depicted in the movie through the final scene where each of the three monks’ life is made easier through the arrangement of the pulley and bucket setup. It is this principle which drives organizations to scale up and it is this very principle which makes companies better than a craftsman.
While there can be many more interpretations of this movie, I would like my readers to throw in their perspectives as comments.
After all what are we, if not a TEAM?