We had a very interesting session on Sun, 28-Oct-2013, moderated by Sameer Agashe. There were 11 of us present from the 1990/91 batch of COEP Mech, Electrical and E/TC. Here is some of the stuff we discussed.
Why does your team work work for you? What motivates them? In the Maslow hierarchy of motivation, individuals have needs for basic security and hygiene, which in today’s world could be things like owning your own house etc. We then progress on to things like self-esteem. Most people at younger ages are concerned more with getting their security et al in place. Most of them, like donkeys, really do not seem to be passionate about anything, except how to reduce their own discomfort, while ensuring that their rainy day account is being built up. One of the strategies you can employ to slot-in this donkey-majority is to rotate them through various roles – so that both you and this person can finalise on a role of minimal discomfort.
Yet you cannot assume that all your team members are going to be donkeys. There will always be a few horses, though as a thumb rule they will always be outnumbered by the donkeys. Your job of course is to increase the ratio of horses to donkeys as much as you can. As one of us put it – ‘In India you need at least one horse for every 10 cr of business that your company does.’ To start with assume that you don’t already know who the horses are. Do not just look at evaluation through compliance centric lenses. Do not copy-paste your past when you did discover a brilliant horse . In HR, there are very few common rules. Each person is driven by different things. You need to spend time with each of the team members. Discover what drives them. You have a process which is entirely off-shored, but a team member’s kick in life is to get to a US assignment asap. Trouble.
As far as possible – whether it is the horse or the donkey, attempt to recognize the strengths. What is the good? Once you know that – ensure that the team benefits because of that member being in a specific role which leverages her strength. An interesting anecdote which was shared: Most IT companies in India are looking at hiring freshers because of the low costs associated with them. But it usually takes them a year to come up to speed. How does one reduce this? Test them on basic technologies and group them based on their expertise; Assign a mentor to each group. Freshers then start becoming productive in half the time!
For horses, internal motivation is key. They take pride in their work. They are not so worried about organizational standards as they are about their own standards. By trial-and-error you need to work on discovering and retaining your horses. You must give horses a platform to perform. If you don’t they are soon going to be finding other pastures! Individual goals alone for horses are not enough – they need to align with the goal of the company. Diversity in horse-styles is welcome – but not in goals. ‘Donkey’ organizations are those which have no shared mission / vision.
For donkeys delegate only processes that are ‘in control.’ Mistakes made on this front will find you ending up with reverse delegation. One of the hurdles to delegation is the belief that our subordinates are not as good as we are. Another hurdle is: What will I do if I am not busy? The solution lies on being hands-on, but not on everything. Being hands on in areas that you are passionate about and interested in is important. It leads to at least a more intimate knowledge of the team in that specific area. You are considered an equal, probably more equal in that area
This also helps keep you grounded, so that you don’t start imagining yourself as a superman fighting all fires simultaneously. Concentrate on the fires which are ‘strategic’ – about what products do you see the company’s future in? Where is the next spurt of growth going to come from? At the same time ensure that the present fires, which is being handled by your team, do not start becoming a source of worry for your company’s future!
Retention is important, especially for your horses. Remember that as a person passes the milestones of marriage and children, his financial needs increase, even if performance has not. Salary increases need to be commensurate with these changes in stage for you to have long term retention of your horses.
We ended with a small discussion on handling mistakes. In engineering terms, mistakes are transmission and distribution losses. Carrying on with the electrical analogy – this happens often because of the ‘generation’ gap. (Pun intended) We need to assume that mistakes will happen. We need to be ready with our Plan B when they happen. An interesting way to tackle mistakes is to relabel them as errors. It then correctly tells us that they are random deviations from the mean in a process of running an organization. And in a lot of cases, the redressal of these mistakes lies in process change. From your perspective, all you need to ask your team member: Did she deliver her best? Is there a better way of doing things?
Contributions for this essay were from: Anil Jhamtani, Atul Gopal, Onkar Kende, Oniell Shah, Shailesh Dubashi, Sameer Agashe, Sumeet Phadnis, Sunil Godbole, Swati Gokhale, Vijay Chheda and Vinayak Bhide.