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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Three steps of unfolding the talent - Inside out process

Anshuman, IIT, MBA, age 33 years, had been a successful corporate trainer for five years. When i met him a year back, he however told me that he has 'left' the field of training. I was surprised, because his 'skill' level was of  'high quality' and very refined. I believed that with some more years of practice, 'training skill' may become his talent. I also knew that Anshuman had worked for 5 years to acquire the necessary skills of training. When i asked him why he left corporate training, he said that ' I cannot work in an area which does not contribute anything meaningful to the human being or the company'. 
When i said that corporate training must be making a meaningful contribution, he said that it is not true. According to him , corporate training, because of its nature, is done to achieve 'number targets'. Participants, who come for training, treat training as a nice holiday. The minuscule participants who take training 'seriously' still do not benefit because they get no help in 'adapting' the lessons of the training in the real-work environment. In short, corporate training, benefits no one, according to Anshuman.  
What could have Anshuman done to avoid wasting his 5 years of life?

First step in talent building : Knowing what is required to produce the work-output 

The first step of 'talent' building is understanding what is required for the task ( in this case, corporate training). This step can be achieved through linear process of acquiring information and building a prototype task model. ( Of course, I also know of many youngsters who have taken more than 5 years in just deciding 'which task to focus on'.)

In this step, even books are useful, because they give you a preliminary list of 'inputs' and 'variables' that are required to achieve the task successfully. One has to however ensure that one must take up a book that 'suits' one's background.  If you are, for instance, a stock broker like Harshad Mehta, you cannot read a book of Nicholas Taleb or Warren Buffet, to build your ' prototype task model' of stock-broking !

This step is uni-directional and can be achieved by the sheer force of Will. It is completely in the realm of left brain. It is time-bound whose results can be predicted with sufficient degree of accuracy.

Second step of talent building: Using deliberate practice to excel in the task 

The second step of talent building, as we have seen earlier, is the process of reality-testing the task model. Once, Anshuman decided that he has to become a master corporate trainer, he had to carefully 'test' his 'task model of training' using different variables and inputs. Whenever he conducted a training, he carefully set the 'experiment' to decide 'which elements' is he testing. Through this reality-testing, he slowly discovered that the variable of 'understanding the background of participants and their context' significantly determines the impact of 'training quality'. He also discovered that 'small actions' taken at the 'end of training session' gives a big feeling of satisfaction to the participants.

This second step effectively determines the 'quality and robustness' of your task model and therefore decides  if your intention of developing your talent will become a 'reality' or not. We discussed some of the ideas of Dr. Anders Ericsson ( who is perhaps the only authority who has researched a lot on this step) in the blog of 'how to make experience count. If the task is highly complex, like management of a technological company or a function ( visavis the management of a small shop or even a retail mall), this step can be quite difficult and time consuming.

We however know some of the characteristics of this step. Because the 'output' of the task model is visible only to the person who is performing the 'task', it demands 'self awareness' to undertake this step. One needs to identify and isolate 'emotion' so that one is not misled in making a wrong conclusion. The success of this reality-testing is partly in the hands of left brain ( self awareness) as well as the right-brain (understanding oneself). One needs to keep the left brain in check ( because left brain believes it can manipulate and control anything) and listen to the new inputs of right brain, instead of rationalising them. The result from this step is partly in control of one's direct actions ( left brain**) and partly determined by what is happening in other aspects of your life ( right brain **). 

Third step of talent building: Making the task part of yourself 

In this step, if the skill has to grow further, the 'skill' has to become 'part' of the individual. Corporate training has to become part of Anshuman. The skill has to become part of your whole. It therefore has to become 'meaningful' to the individual. Without becoming 'meaningful', Ashuman cannot enjoy the process of doing the same task of corporate training again and again and do it 'in a refreshingly different way'. Imagine the amount of effort that Sachin Tendulkar had to take to keep on playing cricket every day ( and build his talent) to remain at the top for 20 years!

This is the step where Anshuman faltered. When Anshuman rightfully applied this test to his 'skill' of corporate training after 5 years, he found that 'corporate training' is 'meaningless' to him. Please remember that someone else can find corporate training 'meaningful'. When someone finds 'meaning' in some task, then it does not  remain a 9 to 5 task for him. It becomes part of his whole life. It changes him. The task goes in the blood. Like Sachin Tendulkar says 'Cricket is in my blood'. Without finding cricket 'meaningful' in his life, Sachin Tendulkar could not have played the same game for 20 year and remained at the top.  When you find your talent zone, because it is meaningful to your life, life is full of boundless energy and passion. So what determines 'what is meaningful'?

'Finding meaning in something' is not a left brain sequential process. It is in the realm of your right brain **. And therefore, it is not in your control. Right brain outcomes like satisfaction, meaningfulness, happiness cannot be achieved directly by Will. They are typically the by-products of some other actions, of the way you live life.

These right-brain ** outcomes depend on the loosely-knit process that is occurring outside the effort of 'skill building'. It is a process of clarifying aspirations, understanding and 'resolving' the conflicts in the values one holds and method of closing the gaps that the 'reality' confronts. It is a process of viewing the world in a way that cannot be manipulated or engineered. This process therefore consumes time. We know that this process can be helped by a mentor/coach, or it can be hastened if one encounters 'difficult situations' like death and failure. In short this process, even if it can be guided, cannot be controlled. It is therefore called unfolding, not building. And this is why we say 'talent unfolds' not 'builds'!

If you had known the process of unfolding, how could you have helped Anshuman? You could have probably helped Anshuman 'explicitly' articulate the 'meaning of contribution' that was implicit in his mind and made him see that 'corporate training' cannot be his 'talent zone'. This could have taken some time, because it cannot be done easily, but it could have still saved him at least 4 years of life, if not 5 years? Or you could have clarified his values and helped Anshuman 'contribute meaningfully' through 'training' without doing corporate training? This could have helped Anshuman capitalise on his experience of training, without sacrificing his values. In the realm of values, beliefs and meanings, there are various options that get 'discovered' because every individual is different.

In short, the right-brain process cannot be put in back burner, because left-brain process is busy acquiring skill, money and reputation? Sooner or later, left brain has to catch up with the outcomes of right brain. Left brain surprisingly 'listens' to the dictats of right brain, even though it is damaging to the person's career ( like Anshuman's decision of leaving corporate training seems non-sensical!) But i have seen many individuals like Anshuman who get surprised by the outcomes of right-brain, because they have left it unattended. I always therefore suggest that one should start working on the right brain process' as soon as possible. Do not wait for it to catch up? Let us see what you can do in the next blog.

** Right brain and left brain distinctions have been done on the basis of research of Ian Mcgilchrist. His book The master and his emissary provides all the details.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Confidence is temporary and contextual

"Confidence is one thing, but that can be temporary and that can fade as quickly as it came really." 

Who do you think made this statement? It was made by Roger Federer, winner of 16 Grand Slams, a record in the professional tennis world. Roger Federer made this statement just after he had won the semi-finals in the year ending ATP Finals at London in November 2011.

Systems thinkers call such as variables as an 'emerging property' of a system.This means that confidence is not inherent in you; it emerges out of your engagement with that system. That is why, Roger Federer can be confident in playing tennis, but he could be very nervous and jittery while 'investing his money' or 'helping his children to find the best school'.

As Confidence is an 'emergent property' of the system, it is not a 'time-less' trait; it is a time-dependent trait that is true only for that 'time' or moment.It can fade as easily as it emerged. For instance, if Roger Federer stops improving his game, his capability will not match with the demands of the game and he will feel less confident. In other words, constant improvement in the activity is not just necessary, but is absolutely essential to remain 'confident' in the field. This is what Roger Federer had to say about his effort in tennis.

As Federer explained, "I used to have a weak backhand. But then everybody played to my backhand. So obviously I was always going to improve my backhand eventually." He further added , "I think the same thing kind of happened to many different players. I don't think Novak's forehand used to be a strength. Today it's a weapon. [With] Rafa, [it’s] the same thing. He used to struggle if you hit hard into his forehand. Today it's no problem for him anymore. 

In other words, remaining confident is not automatic; neither to Roger Federer, nor to you. It depends on your engagement with the  'system' and the actions you take to match your capabilities with the changing 'demands'of the situation.  

Therefore it is wrong to claim ' I am confident'. It is more appropriate to say " I am confident in doing xyz today'. Please remember this when you are giving your next interview, or when you are talking to your boss or your subordinates. 

At this time, I sadly remember an interview of Vidhu Vinod Chopra he gave on the TV when his movie "1942-The love story" was released in 1994. Vinod Chopra wanted R.D. Burman to compose music for his film. When Vinod Chopra approached R.D. Burman for composing music, R.D. Burman had not composed music for a long time. Vinod Chopra said, 'R.D. Burman's confidence was so shattered that he did not believe that someone would want him to compose the music'. And remember R.D. Burman was a music composer of more than 300 plus films over three decades ( 1960 to 1990), some of which have been memorable like 'Padosan'and 'Yaadon Ki Baraat'. 

Confidence is temporary and contextual. Because it is an emergent property of a system, one has to 'engage' with the system to remain confident. 

A puzzle for you: What are your other 'traits', which you think are yours, but which actually 'emerge' from your engagement with the system?  

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Misdirected effort only generates heat, not light

Our efforts to produce result are often directed towards visible systems* which are under our control, so to say. For instance, if a student is studying for a subject to score higher marks, he typically focusses on efforts that are in his control - understanding the chapters of the subject, trying to understand the difficult sections by re-rereading and careful dissection,  mugging the portions that seem long winding and so on.

Smart students, on the other hand, concentrate on the invisible systems that are under their influence, not control. For instance, they will find all the connected systems around the subject and exploit the 'interrelations' between them. Using their friends who know the subject better they will understand the 'subject better and faster', by understanding what 'questions' appeared in the last year exam they will focus their effort selectively, by knowing when the subject exam is amidst rest of the subjects, they will plan the study time given to the subject carefully.  

If you are balancing your efforts between the invisible and visible systems unconsciously, you are the lucky one. Now, with the clear articulation of invisible systems, you can work on invisible system consciously.

As a student you may afford to ignore the invisible systems that help you produce result, but if you are working, you just cannot afford to ignore. In a work-system, invisible systems in the work-life are much larger in proportion ( about 60-70%) than in study-life. 

Ignoring the invisible systems in work-life is an invitation for trouble. For instance, what do you think is impact of invisible systems on the result of a player who is playing an individual game ( like tennis)   and not the team game ( like cricket). As you will observe in a tennis match, even when a player wins the same points as other player, he may still lose the match, because he failed to influence the invisible systems of the match. Can you guess the invisible systems of a tennis player? 

In an organisational work-life, the invisible systems matter a lot, because of the dual effect of specialisation and 'team-effect'. We have seen how much supervisors impact the evaluation of knowledge work in organisations.  We have also seen how managing perception is important for senior bosses for whom time is always scarce. Impact of invisible systems is very high on the work-output of a knowledge professional.

I have seen a smart sales officer unable to produce the desired 'output' because he was given a 'difficult' territory that was spoilt by the earlier incumbent. I have seen a smart programmer spend considerable time than required to 'maintain' a program, because the earlier programmer did not 'document and design' the program properly. I have seen a talented R&D manager struggling to produce 'result', because his product is competing with a heavy-weight multinational competitor who is spending 5 times the budget than his company. Every day, in my coaching, i see numerous examples in organisational work-life, where the result of an employee's effort is determined by invisible systems outside his control.

And despite the huge impact of invisible systems,  many smart professionals continue to bury their nose in the sand and do what is in their control. They suffer from the 'under the lamp' syndrome and tend to search for the key under the lamp post because that is 'where the light is'. They concentrate on systems under their control, and ignore the invisible systems which they can only influence.

In 2005-6, Mckinsey consultants had published a report saying that 60-75% of the engineering graduates in India are not fit for working in a corporate life. I would venture to say that this is due to their lack of ability to 'see' the invisible systems that impact their output. And when they are not trained to see the invisible systems, how can they influence it? With their youthful exuberance and energy, graduates in their initial work-life tend to produce lot of heat, without producing light. 

* Systems are conglomeration of interacting elements that serve the purpose of the system. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

If your bosses are forced to become dictators, what are you forced into

If you are working in the field of sports or music and if you perform poorly, say while playing tennis or violin, someone can easily tell you why your performance was poor, by giving you instances of where you missed or failed. Evaluating performance in A&P field is based on objective criteria. Even if your coach disagrees with you, it is visible to all others. This at least helps you, as the A&P performer, to find from others if your performance was 'really bad' or was disliked by the critique/coach because he does not like you.

On the other hand, when you are working in a cognitive field, be it in manufacturing, sales or design, your work-output is not visible like a music piece or play. Infact, in cognitive work, work-output is misguiding, because in cognitive work, it is very easy to cut corners and produce the required output. One can increase the customer calls by giving 'terse and incomplete' answers, one can lend more loans by tapping 'suspect' customers, or one can write software code quickly but which is 'inherently difficult to maintain', or one can achieve production targets by compromising on quality. In short, it is difficult to evaluate cognitive work performance objectively through its 'output' measures.

When companies try to measure knowledge work of their employees through 'thinking process' such as by counting the number of ideas produced by a cognitive performer, it generates even more questions. In a company, which implemented this scheme, interesting scenarios emerged.  Some ideas, which had big impact, required indeterminate effort to 'mature' them. Some were low hanging matured fruits but had low impact. Some looked good but looked technologically difficult to implement. Some looked outlandish, but seemed promising from customer angle. Only a person with similar 'specialised' skill, working closely with each employee, can evaluate the cognitive performance of each employee after considerable effort. Therefore evaluating cognitive performance through your 'thinking process' is a good idea, but impractical to implement.

If your cognitive performance can neither be evaluated by output, nor by the inputs ( i.e. the thinking  process), what does your company management do? Your company finds a practical alternative: they give this responsibility to your boss or supervisor. Your boss becomes your key evaluator.

Given the invisible characteristics of cognitive work, and being human, your boss finds some workable method to evaluate you. Sometime he measures your cognitive performance by 'output' even though it seems illogical. Sometimes he measures it by your acts of omission and commission. Sometimes, he measures it through your manner of speech and communication. Sometimes through your dress. Sometimes ....There are as many measures as there are bosses. In short, bosses look like dictators who do whatever they wish. ( By the way, some bosses start taking their role seriously and start behaving as dictators, thus closing the loop!)

What do graduates do when they encounter these kind of bosses in their jobs?
  1. They become like Jabbar. They think that the problem is their 'boss', and only if the boss is right, everything will be fine. So they keep on changing jobs to find the right boss. Naturally, because it is the nature of cognitive work, and not the nature of boss, they never find their solution. Some luckier ones find the right job and boss, which helps them unfold their journey of talent. 
  2. Second approach is taken by enterprising graduates. I know of Karthik, who rebelled, and started working as an entrepreneur three years back. He was happy to leave behind a tyrannical boss. But when he developed his first 'technological' innovation, he was shocked to see the response of his customers. He realised that his performance-evaluator had changed from 'boss' to 'customer', but the evaluation was still the same. Now, after three years, Karthik believes 'customers are totally irrational, want everything free, and demand immediate service without paying anything'. Karthik's talent path has got diverted unwittingly because of this conclusion !  
  3. Third approach is to accept the belief that 'boss ( or system) is always right' and become 'part of the system'. These individuals learn to 'manage bosses and the system', but forget their talent. As a result, they become 'successful' in the corporate world, but remain unhappy because their talent has got submerged in the corporate world. They are like Anil, who have forgotten what are they good at. Their 'method of success' becomes their bottleneck ! 
  4. Majority follow the fourth approach. They become practical and mature. They forget their talent and 'adjust' with the world. Some adjust by blaming the entire world for their misfortune. You will find them as constant trouble makers in corporate world. Some adjust by finding expression in some non-work activity like photography, writing, making friends, or even helping charity. As you would imagine, there are innumerable ways of adjusting with the world. 
You have a choice, provided you consciously take it

As you would have intuitively realised from the above four scenarios, your boss or customers are not the dictators. Infact, as you would have realised, they are the victims of the system which has pushed the difficult responsibility to them because they cannot say 'no'.  They do not seem to have any choice. But you have a choice.

Either you unconsciously get exploited by the system like Karthik ( and the majority ) and get derailed from your  'main journey'. Or you refuse to become part of the system and become like Jabbar, and hope that salvation is around the corner. Or you unconsciously exploit the system and become like Anil, who won the war but lost the battle.

Or you have another choice. Accept the fact that your path of skill-development is pulled by these market forces, even if you do not like it. Once you accept this reality, you will appreciate that your path of skill-development is hampered by these key actors - your boss,  if you are employee or researcher, or customers, if you are an entrepreneur - who are just playing their mediating role. These actors  behave, in their uniquely dictatorial way, because the market is biased, irrational, unpredictable and idiosyncratic in its demands.

Therefore, if you embrace them as a collaborator in your journey, it will help you understand the 'corporate world' and/or 'customer world'  better, learn to  'negotiate' the hurdles they have placed, and continue on your core journey of unfolding your skill into a talent. The choice is entirely yours.

And, if you chose to consciously negotiate the system, it is not difficult. Not as difficult as your course in Engineering, physics, medicine, accounts or law. It is much simpler. The art lies in 'being part of the system first before learning to be apart'.

You have to learn to map the 'metasystems' in which you are working, understand what they expect from you in terms of performance, and then maneuver it to fulfill those expectations.  Because it is different skill to acquire, initially it will be difficult, but once you cross the threshold, it will be as easy as driving your car. ( This skill is learnt through the discipline of Systems thinking!)

Do you want to become victim of the system or understand the system and negotiate it smartly? ( The word system is 'differently' defined in the discipline of systems thinking)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Talent management has become complex, it is no more complicated

What is common in these 3 cases:

Casy, age 24, passed out his CA this year in his second attempt. He has been giving interviews for last three weeks. Frustrated in not getting the desired job in corporate, he approached me with this question, ' After doing CA, how can i not get the job i want?'

Jabbar , age 31, sincere hard worker and a bright student, has been working in a big software organisation after passing out from a top Engineering institute.  He met me last year. His constant disappointment in his work has been 'job satisfaction', despite, as he says, working harder. He has changed two jobs in last 6 years for that. 

Anil, age 42, considers himself to be a successful professional. He is a GM in a manufacturing organisation, which is not common at this age. He owns a house in Pune, has two cars for his family, goes for a holiday every year to foreign destination.  He is wondering if he has succeeded too early in life and wonders what to do next, because as he says there is no 'mountain to scale'

All three were expecting to cruise on 'auto-pilot'. Casy thought that a good job is his birthright after going through the gruel of doing CA. Jabbar thought that job satisfaction is automatic if he works diligently and sincerely. Anil expected to see the next 'mountain' once he scaled the earlier mountain. If they had asked their fathers' advice, their fathers would have not been able to help them.

Our fathers got jobs quite comfortably in earlier days. In those days, if one did a CA, one's life was made for good. The demon of job satisfaction was never seen, because in earlier days, one moved from one job to another only for higher salary or positions, not for job satisfaction. Fathers did not face the challenge of Anil, because they spend their entire life trying to find 'adequate' food and shelter for their family.

Today everything has changed. Job markets have changed. Even employers can chose the best, the choice they earlier lacked. That is why like Casy, even Engineers, lawyers and first class graduates, find it difficult to get jobs they want.  However, like his employers, Casy also has many options: he can work with a company, a NGO or as a free-lance. However, to exploit this advantage, he must first equip himself with a new rule-set.

 Expectations have changed due to comparison with colleagues and due to easy information on internet. But without the new rule-set of  'how to find job satisfaction in a job', many professionals like Jabbar still struggle to find 'job satisfaction't. Aspirations have changed because of overall financial security, however we still do not know how to 'fulfill' those aspirations because we do not know how to work with our mind to 'know what we want'. Unable to work with mind, Anil is flooded with market opportunities, unable to choose the next mountain. Unlike his father who never got opportunities, Anil is facing the problem of 'too many opportunities'  at too early an age.

What are these three cases pointing towards? Talent Management is no more complicated, it has become complex. A complicated problem can be solved by using the same methods and techniques more efficiently. When a problem is complicated, one needs to do more of the same. One has to just try harder.  One can follow simple older rules of talent management such as work hard, work sincerely, be motivated, have a goal or build network. One can simply learn 'on the job' and hope things work out.

A complex problem however requires a different 'mind-set', a different 'rule-set', both to 'identify' the problem and then to 'resolve' it. Because the rules of game have changed, only learning from the problem is not enough, one has to learn before the problem appears. You need a new mind-set as well as rule set to manage your talent over a life time. Your father's rule-sets won't help you any more.

Casy for instance has to 'anticipate' the problem of getting the job after CA and prepare in advance; if he waits, not only the opportunity slips but as he gets more frustrated in not getting the desired job he makes more mistakes. Jabbar has to understand that the problem in Stage II of competency building ( Please read this to understand the different stages of talent unfolding) is best negotiated 'by being with one employer', not by changing employers. Infact, changing employers worsens his problem of job satisfaction even more !

And Anil has to learn the new ways of migrating from Stage III - Competency convergence to Stage IV of talent embedding. And worse still, he has to understand this 20 years before Nandan Nilekani did. Or what Arun Maira did at the age of 66. Anil has to perhaps learn from Kaushik Basu who learnt to use his talent for higher purpose much earlier than others, at the age of 40+.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Learning the skill of perception management

If you have understood the unfolding of cognitive talent, perception management is an 'Achilles heel' for many of the cognitive performers.

Perception is a subjective interpretation of observed facts. If I meet you in a office for 15 minutes, and you conclude after our meeting that " I am unprofessional', that is a perception. It is based on subjective interpretation of the 'facts that you observed in the 15 minutes'. It may be accurate or inaccurate. But many decisions are based on perceptions. Due to reasons, as we see below, perception is dominant in companies.

Why do we always use perception to evaluate others

But if you pause for a while, you will appreciate that even you also use perception to evaluate others most of the time.

When you go out to buy a soap, are you evaluating the soap based on its chemical and purifying attributes, or on subjective brand  features of the soap? When you choose X doctor in comparison to Y, do you compare their professional merit or do you choose on the basis of their clinic's get-up and doctor's manner of speech? When you evaluate your TV mechanic/automobile mechanic, do you evaluate them on their 'deep knowledge and merit' or on their 'dress and manner of speech'?

Why do we use perception more often than objective facts to decide? It is because of two reasons: either we do not have enough 'time' or enough 'ability' to evaluate. While buying soap we should evaluate the 'soaps chemical characteristics and its benefits' to us. But as we think that we will not gain enough 'value from the effort', we conclude  'time versus value' trade-off is not beneficial. Consequently, we do not spent the necessary time in evaluating soap !

When we are buying a high priced car though, we do spend much more time to collect more 'objective facts' on cars. But we hit another barrier : the barrier of specialisation. Even if the carmaker gives us all the objective information about car engine,gear and other parts, we do not have the 'cognitive ability' to evaluate, because that needs understanding of special domain called automobile engineering. Due to the same barrier of specialisation, we cannot evaluate the 'speciality of doctor's medicine' even when the doctor is saving our life.

Limited time at our disposal and the continuing 'super specialisation' in today's world ( which makes it impossible for us to evaluate these specialist fields)forces all of us to use 'perception' more than we like.Advertising industry not only understands our limitation, it exploits it fully. Although we can crib about it as much as we want, we cannot do anything about it because the root-cause is 'systemic'. 

Why is perception management critical in work-life

Our key evaluators - be it bosses, superbosses, colleagues and customers - almost always, evaluate us with 'subjective' interpretation of what they observe in us when we meet them for the first time. 

When researchers studied the impact of 'perception' in a 15 minute selection interview, they were surprised. They found that interviewers evaluate the interviewee in the first 3 minutes, and spend rest of time in 'confirming' the initial judgement made in 3 minutes. Perception, in other words, create virtuous cycle (depending on how you see it) that determine the final evaluation. In psychology, this is called as primacy bias, and despite the care taken to reduce it, it remains dominant !

Given the high degree of specialisation in a company, and given the 'time scarcity' of senior executives, perceptions are heavily used to evaluate employees in a company more than the objective facts. With bosses, with whom we have constant interaction, the role of perception may get reduced. However, with other key evaluators in an organisation, it is perception that matters. Whether you like it or not, you live in the imperfect world ! I know of several individuals in companies who survive in an organisation just on the basis of managing perception.

Four principles of Perception management

Perception management is done to ensure that your 'evaluator' will evaluate you 'positively' in the 'short initial interactions' until there is sufficient time for them to assess your  'merit'. 

If you help others to perceive you in positive manner, it will multiply your opportunities and open your access to important people in the organisation. Negative perceptions, on the other hand, means that you have lost the battle even before you have entered the battleground.  

To help others perceive you positively, follow these four generic principles:

1. Remember 'packaging' creates +ve perception, because it is difficult to understand and evaluate 'content inside the package'. Remember this rule all the time.

That is why body language, manner of walking, proper dress, personal grooming, use of branded accessories such as phones and belts create lasting impact than anything else. Use them skillfully. For instance, i always advise professionals to wear 'dark shaded' trousers and 'light shaded' shirts in corporate world because that is the 'norm' in companies. Wearing 'gaudy' colours creates -ve perception.

2. Perceptions are 'subjective interpretations'. Therefore, find the meaning attached by your evaluators to key concepts

Take effort to understand the 'exact meaning' of concepts such as  'good performance', 'hard work', 'smartness' of your key evaluators.

For instance, some bosses evaluate performance of their juniors, based on their 'team-coordination qualities' and not on 'individual contribution'. Some bosses call juniors as 'hard-working' only when they are seen sitting in the office beyond 7 pm. Some bosses consider a junior 'smart' , only when he can prepare a 'jazy ppt'. 

Howsoever subjective these 'qualities' may be defined by bosses, one has to 'adhere' to them during the 'initial period' of work acclimatization with them. On the other hand, because we interact with 'super-bosses', customers and other colleagues infrequently, perception management has to be done 'constantly' with them. 

3. Follow the protocols of behaviour that is prevalent in your organisation

Every organisation has a protocol for the events such as  'disagreeing in a group', 'attending meetings', 'taking personal calls while in meeting', 'writing emails to insiders and outsiders', 'manner of talking in a public place like staircases, corridor or canteens', 'manner of interaction in conference calls' and so on.

Take extra effort to understand these protocols and follow them 'rigidly' without questioning it. If you do not follow them, you are seen as 'black sheep'.

4. Work actively to help evaluators 'assess ' your merit, so that dependence on perception is reduced

Because your field is 'specialised', you have to help others to 'evaluate' your merit appropriately. If you are a 'good hardware engineer' you have to educate others to help them evaluate your 'speciality of hardware engineering'. I know it is hard work. But it is catch-22 situation for you. To evaluate you appropriately,  you have to work hard on 'educating others'. If you do not educate, you still have to work hard on managing their perception, because - without your help- they will keep relying on perception. Both options require hard work. Which option do you prefer?.


Perception management is not 'showing off' or 'branding' for creating the 'right impression'. It is a strategy meant to ensure that your key evaluators 'understand' your merit and do not get put off by the 'initial impression'. If the initial impression is created wrongly, you have to take extra effort to 'undo' the impression. Perception management helps you reduce your 'undoing' effort and start on the 'strong footing' right from the beginning. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Choose your talent zone (work-path)

While sportsman and artists choose their talent zone (i.e. play tennis or engage in dance) by the age of 5-8, cognitive performers ( what Peter Drucker calls as knowledge workers) working in engineering, law, accounts, and service professions do not choose their talent zone even till the age of 20 because of the genuine difficulties they face.

Let me clarify what we mean by talent. Talent is not a 'potential' ability; it is a demonstrated ability in a person who can replicate that ability consistently in different situations. Therefore, when one is young, one does not have a talent, one only has a potential 'ability'. To convert this potential ability into a talent, one has to chose a wide enough 'Talent Zone', otherwise ability remains just a dormant ability.

Only after artists and sportsman chose 'Talent Zone' ( you can also think of it as work-path) to invest time and resources, they can embed 'talent' in their lives, like you can design 'fashion' for your life. Designing talent is not just imagining the 'to-be' possibilities for yourself, but also giving form to those possibilities. Having chosen their talent zone, artists and sportsman then find ways and means to incrementally increase the challenges, use coaches and other support mechanisms to negotiate these challenges, narrow or widen the 'core ability' in the talent zone( should i do ballet or kathakali), develop complementary abilities to excel in the core ability, and write their 'signature' in the world.

If there are so many benefits of using a talent zone, why can't you, as cognitive performers, choose your talent zones ( work-paths) even at the age of 20, i.e when you are graduating. There seems to be two reasons. One is ignorance of the associated risks, and second is the knowledge of the talent designing process of cognitive talents.

Risk Scenario 1 : You may choose a wrong talent zone

Many graduate students avoid choosing a talent zone (work-path) , because they feel they may go on a wrong path and will not be able to recover from the mistake. This is incorrect understanding of the risk.

When artists and sportsman choose a talent zone, they are ready to exit if they realise they are not made for it. They can exit because they develop intermediate capabilities while pursuing the talent zone. They can combine these intermediate capabilities with other capabilities to find a different talent zone or domain.

For instance, take the example of of Jose Mourinho. He started as a professional footballer, but he soon realised that he may not be the best football player. He switched his work-path to football coaching. In other words, he used his intermediate capabilities and combined it with 'training' capability to pick an allied path of 'coaching'. He is one of the most successful football coaches today who has taken three different sides to the highest levels: Porto, Chelsea, and Real Madrid.

In aesthetic and sports fields, you will find countless examples. Subhash Ghai trained as an actor, but when he failed to break through, he changed the work-path to director and became one of the most successful directors in Bollywood. Mohinder Amarnath started his cricketing career as a fast bowler and retired as one of the best batsman. In cricket, you will find many examples of cricketers who, unable to find place in top team, still manage to earn enough money through their intermediate capabilities such as coaching youngsters, or managing their cricket association.

As cognitive performers, you can follow these examples. If you are on the education path of technology, you may choose any of the these functions: Sales, Design, Research, or working in Management of a company. Or if you are on the education path of accounts, you can choose subject speciality such as Investment banking, Auditor, merger and acquisitions and so on.

How should one make this choice? Many students lack the knowledge of talent development process to choose. For instance, when an athlete chooses a game, say football versus tennis, at the age of 7, he does not choose based on his potential. He just plays both the games,and then slowly over a period of time, finds the game where he is excelling. When he has no other game to play in his town or city, he just chooses the one that is available.  For instance, in India more than often, one chooses cricket.

The same holds for cognitive talent. After engaging with technological subjects in graduation, you can find out your abilities in those subjects and choose research or design zone. Some talent zones, to be chosen, require more dense engagement. For instance, only after working in a company would you know if you will excel in managing people or projects.

Morevr, as compared to aesthetic and sports field, the risk of not finding alternatives in one's chosen domain in cognitive fields is very low. In cognitive fields, the possibility of combining different skills is enormous. Cognitive performers can work in corporate, government organisations, social NGO's or can even start their company. They can work in the back office functions such as quality, maintenance or support or can work in the front office functions such as sales or production. They can work as 'solo performers' or as 'managers'. The possibilities are truly enormous. In other words, the risk scenario (1) is non-existent in cognitive fields.

Risk scenario 2: After choosing a domain, you may not reach the top

This is a genuine fear. Even sportsman and artists face this fear. But no one, i have seen, drops the pursuit of the talent because they are scared that they may not reach the top. And surprisingly, even though , when they do not reach the top (remember not more than 5% reach the top), they still feel that 'journey was well worth'.

There are two reasons why 95% still pursue the talent journey, i think. One is, the benefits of pursuing a domain are that it provides them an anchor to live their life. They are more grounded and can face the chaotic situations in their life with calm. Two, 95% can still get enough money even when they do not get the highest. As we discussed in the blog of 12 June, the extent of money is determined by the functioning of skill market. If the skill market is well developed, choosing a desired domain is easier. This is why it has now become so easy to chose 'music domain' in India.

In cognitive fields, the difference between the top 5% and the rest is not so steep as in sports and arts field. In cognitive fields, the talents are not uni-dimensional as in arts or sports. For instance, it is easy to figure out the top 20 violinist in the world, but it is not easy to figure out the top 10 managers in the industry. In other words, options to 'monetise' your talent are so numerous that it does not matter if you do not reach the top.

Given that there is very little risk, what stops cognitive performers in choosing their domains during graduation? I can only think of one reason: their lack of knowledge of how the process of talent development works.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The art of getting interviewed

Generally, interviews are considered to be outside the 'control' of interviewee. But if you observe smart professionals, you will realise that they prepare on two different planks that help them substantially 'influence' the process of getting interviewed. With adequate preparation, you can definitely 'influence' the process of your interviewing, if not 'control' it.

1. Prepare on 'what you want to say about yourself'

a. First step is to write appropriate 'baits' in your resume for the interviewer to ask questions. For instance, if you have done some interesting work on a project in your college, you must write enough 'interesting' remarks about the project for the interviewer to 'compel' him to ask a question of that work. These are called as baits. If your resume is not designed properly with these baits, the interview is not in your control. Professional coaches do not just add ' flowery English language' in your resume, but they help you design these 'baits' in your resume so that you control the interview, not the other way around.  

b. Thoroughly rehearse on every 'bait' that you have included in your resume: Generally, interviews happen in English language. Therefore it is necessary to write the story around the bait, mug the story sequence, and then narrate it. Once you are sure you can remember the sequence and key words well, rehearse it infront of someone. Start with a close friend who understands your project, then rehearse with a friend who does not understand your project, and then with your parents. Everyone will give you 'feedback' that will help you to improve your 'narration'. Once you have got the narration in proper order, then try to shorten the narration time further. Some interviewers may not give you enough time!

c. Get ready to answer 'surprising' turns and twists in your resumes confidently: Be prepared for answering questions like: Why did you not do Electronics engineering when your father is an electronics engineer? Why did you miss one year after 12th ? Why did you do this course of Java in the second year? and so on. Also rehearse these answers, if you are not sure.

d. Prepare to answer typical questions. To get a glimpse of what questions are asked for different types of interviews, here is a sample .

e. Take adequate care of your body language: More than the content of answers, interviewer reads your body first and gets 'conditioned'. If your 'body posture' looks that you are not sure, despite your brilliant answer, the interviewer will get a wrong message.

On your own, you may find it difficult to know your body language. You may need to take help of someone senior enough to help you in this matter. It could be your parent, your professor, or some senior colleague of yours. Once again, a coach is more helpful in this matter.

2. Prepare for the 'audience' who is going to take your interview

Despite all your preparation, interviews get derailed when you encounter 'surprises'. One can only prepare oneself to reduce the surprises, not eliminate them. Here are the three important actions taken by smart professionals to reduce the surprises:

a. Understand the interviewer profile before going for a specific interview: If the interview is being taken by HR representative, be prepared for non-technical questions like 'Why did you do Engineering" and so on. HR is more interested in knowing the years of experience, the qualifications, and other family background. If there is any blip in the education period, be prepared to answer it confidently. For technical interviews, be prepared to answer the 'big' bait questions thoroughly.

b. Do a short research on the company background for which you are being interviewed: This knowledge is critical when you are applying for jobs where demand for jobs is more than supply, i.e for all freshers jobs or for your second job. At the minimum understand three elements of company: key differences of target company from other competing companies, the 'structure' of departments and offices in the target company, the strength and weakness of your job positions in that company ( is it in demand or is it run of mill position, for instance?).

You have to use different methods to get this information: Scan the websites, use the business analyst reports of the company issued by investment companies, talk with friends working in the company or sign up for different groups on the net and ask questions discretely.

Believe me, this does not take much time. Initially, when you are learning this, it may take more time; but as you become proficient in doing this, it will not consume more than a day.

c. Never ever answer any question that you are not sure about: Despite all the compulsion to answer all questions, answer only when you are confident. If you are not sure about anything, tell the interviewer that you are not sure and ask his permission to make an attempt to answer. Only if the interviewer gives you the permission, attempt to answer the 'unsure' question. In any case, it is better to say 'i do not know' than answer wrongly.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Retail industry offers good options for enterpreneurial graduates

Organised retail industry is growing at a rapid rate in India. Big Bazaar, Spencer, More, Smart, Hypercity are all springing up in the urban centres, and with them, we are seeing a new option for graduates, especially the entrepreneurial graduates. In order to understand the options available in retail industry, let us understand the structure of the industry.

In the lowest scale, retail is dominated by Supermarkets. A supermarket like Reliance or Spencer is a shop of approximately 3000-5000 square feet space, sells about about 3000 SKU's ( stock keeping units or identified unit of sale such as soap, sugar or curd) sells about 15-30 lakhs per month and employs about 15-25 employees. A hypermarket like Big Bazaar is a shop of approximately 20-30 K square feet, sells about 15000 SKU's, clocks a sales of about 3-5 crore per month. A mega-hypermarket like Hypercity or Metro has even higher square feet area like 80 K square feet.

All these shops have three sections: Sales floor employees who help customers buy a product, back end employees who interacts with suppliers to get the material of requisite quality and quantity and supporting employees like security, cashier and cleaning. Sales floor employees progress in the following hierarchy: customer sales representative > Team Leader > Department leader ( such as that of food) > Stores manager. Other positions are Regional office and Head office positions.

Working in sales floor is supposed to be the premium job and is also paid the best, followed by back end and supporting section in the descending order. One generally starts working from supermarket and move to Hypermarket and then to mega-hypermarket. Normally it takes about 10-15 years to become a store manager. A store manager of a supermarket may earn about 25K per month while the same store manager of mega-hypermarket will earn about 100K per month.

One can join a supermarket at the lowest level even after passing HSC. That is a huge advantage for an entrepreneur as he can gain the necessary customer knowledge and buyer market as well as learn the necessary skills. If you work on sales floor, you understand what customers want, how they buy, which products move faster in the market and so on. If you are working as a Buyer ( in back end section), you not only gain information about the best suppliers of a product, you also understand which products have better margins. For instance, you will understand that apparel section has higher profit margin than food section !

By the time you graduate, you have learnt the ropes of business and can make the next move. You can , for instance, start an apparel shop in an area that you know has market. Or you can decide to become an intermediate distributor of vegetables and fruits. Or you can just decide to have a repair shop for TV's.

Even if you decide to stick with employment, MBA can be a distinct advantage to move beyond the level of store manager. One can also move midway to Hotels and restaurants if one finds it as more exciting. I know of a person who decided to use his retail management expertise to start a franchise outlet of Macdonald. Not only the options are available, but they are available at the right age.

Do you see the advantages of working in retail?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why should graduates prefer Sales function?

Last week, i was coaching a final year engineering graduate, Atish.

Atish was finishing his degree in Telecom Engineering. His marks for last three years were between 57%-59%, missing the first class by a whisker. His academic track record suggested that he was ill at ease in Engineering subjects. On the other hand, he seemed to be comfortable in 'extrovert' skills, which was noticed by his excellent rapport with friends from different culture and economic background, his participation in college events, his liking of people-related experiences. So i suggested him ' Why don't you make career in Sales'. He immediately retorted 'I do not like sales.'

Whenever i meet graduates, i encounter this general dislike of 'sales' function. So when i probed Atish, what does he not like about sales, he told me about one of his friend who was selling 'electronic components' to retailers. He said ' My friend keeps on moving from one shop to another, shows the catalog, takes the order ( or the money), and moves to the next shop. He is constantly travelling, staying in not-so-good hotels and is generally hassled'.

If that is the 'view' of sales, how can Atish want to go to Sales? Other graduates tell me about the FMCG 'salesman' they see at a retail Kirana stores, while some others tell me about the pharmaceutical 'salesman' they see in the doctor's consulting room. With this limited, and uncharitable view of a salesman, it is difficult to chose sales, even when it is the most appropriate function for someone like Atish?

On the other hand, see the other side of the story. In an organisation, Sales is the most critical function, because it brings in 'revenue'. And because it is a critical function, it is also the best-paid function. Without working in sales, it is very difficult to reach the top. And unlike other functions in an organisation, the correlation between your effort > output is the highest. You immediately know what you are doing wrong, because of which you can correct yourself quickly, and learn therefore at the fastest speed. What else you would want in a job?

I therefore feel very 'disturbed' when graduates avoid 'sales' function just because they are not fully aware of 'what is sales'. So here is an attempt to unblock the negative bias of sales.

Sales is a function where one has to convert a 'suspect' into a 'customer'. Marketing is a function that converts 'prospect' into a 'suspect'. For instance, marketing job is to get me 'interested' in buying 'sedan car'. They provide me lot of information ( in a broadcast mode) to convert me from a prospective customer into a suspect customer. Once i am interested in their car, and enter in the car showroom, it is the job of sales to convert me into their 'customer'.

Due to this correlation between marketing and sales, sales job have different shades of complexity. The complexity varies from type of product, nature of product ( must-have or nice-to-have), price of the product, type of customer ( is it specialist individual like a doctor or an entity like company).

The type of product varies from simple product selling > services selling > complex solution selling. Product can be as simple as soap or toothpaste or it can be as high priced as car or flat. Services can be as simple as selling repairing service of mobile to a complex selling of investment service. Solution can be selling a solution of 'method of testing a car's engine' or selling a solution of 'fitting a car body to the specification of a customer ( which Manu Chabria does when he makes vehicles for celebrities).

Complexity determines the skill requirement of 'sales' function. Low-priced products like soap are easier to sell than high priced products like flat. Must-have products like insurance are easier to sell than nice-to-have products like financial advice. And selling it to individuals is far more easier than selling it to companies. More complex and difficult is the selling, more is the 'specialised skill and knowledge' required. You cannot selling 'testing solution' to a car manufacturer until you completely understand his requirement, competitor's products and your product advantages. In complex selling jobs, 'marketing and sales' are almost bundled together. In lower complexity jobs like soap salesman, marketing and sales are unbundled.

While sales function combines your 'engineering knowledge' with your 'people-skills', design function combines your 'engineering knowledge' with your ' intrinsic technology skills'. Combinations are different, and if someone like Atish, who has a head start over others in terms of people-skill, should he not use this for his advantage by working in sales?

In technology selling, the complexity of selling is very high. It not only requires knowledge of product and technology, but it also requires another unique ability: converting extremely complex technological language into the language of buyer. This skill is so difficult to acquire, that in technology, 'sales' skills are more in demand than even 'design' skills. For instance, when you you think of Apple computer, whose name do you recollect? Do you remember Steve Jobs, the man who 'configured' and 'sold' the first computer, or do you remember Steve Woznaik, who designed the Apple computer?

Side Bar: Marketing is systematically taught in MBA courses because it is a 'thinking' competency. Sales, being a 'doing' competency, is still learnt best in a job. That is why many 'people-skill' graduates take up Marketing speciality in MBA. For engineering graduates, who do not like technology very much, getting into sales function is perhaps the best opportunity to enter this critical organisational function.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Drafting Resume - is it art or science?

For graduates, preparing resume is one of the most important aspect that can spell the difference between getting a good job and an average job. Let us see the cases of Ram and Anik.
Ram is graduating as a E&TC engineer from a metro town. His college, though not the best of lot, has a professor who was teaching in IIT, Mumbai. Because of his excellent credential, he got a very good assignment for a group of students from an excellent institute which does work in Astronomy. The project turned out to be so successful, that Ram's group has done follow-up work even after finishing final exam. Ram, appearing in one of the better MNC's in Bangalore, had prepared his resume. He had written about this project in 'three lines' in his resume of 2 pages.
Anik, on the other hand, has been a star student of a good college from Bangalore doing Biotechnonology. He was a GS of a college annual festival, represented his college in various forums, won debating prizes and represented his college in a famous Quiz competition. He had written an exhaustive resume of 4 pages.

Who do you think will get the job - Ram or Anik? I know it will surprise you. But both Ram and Anik cannot get the job they want, because they have not followed the three golden rules (at the minimum) of writing a good resume.

Rule 1: Write resume for a targeted audience. Graduates generally write 'everything' in the resume, without knowing the 'profile' of 'audience'. Imagine, you going to a automobile showroom, and given an exhaustive car brochure of 10 pages!Will you be able to interested in reading the brochure explaining features like 'how much torque is created by the engine'?

This is what Anik did in his resume. He wrote everything in his resume. The 'reader' is interested in 'specific items' that he can comprehend. Morever, graduates do not realise that their resume has two distinct audience : One is a representative of HR department who will shortlist the resume based on very generic criteria, and second is the functional specialist, who looks for very focused items in a resume.

Rule 2: Write resume like a brochure. Remember, your resume is a 'brochure'. A brochure is a short pithy document about a product to attract the 'audience' so that he/she is interested in knowing more about the product. Advertising professionals are masters in writing the most important aspect of product in a 1-page brochure!

Ram and Anik have committed the same error in writing their resume. While Ram downplayed and wrote very little about his important 'project work', Anik overplayed his wide variety of credentials and wrote everything. For Ram, it is important to learn the art of writing 'long' about his project without losing the interest, while Anil has to learn the art of writing 'short' without loosing the essential aspects of his background.

Rule 3: Resume is just one 'link' in the chain of your selection: To get selected in a job or assignment, an 'interview' is equally important after the resume is sent.

If you are buying a printer, after you read the 'brochure' of printer, you will like to verify the specified qualities of the brochure in the 'demo' of printer. It is same with your 'resume'. Your resume is your brochure, while your interview is the 'demo'. Interview is like a 'demonstration' of your stated qualities whose features have been written in your resume. ( i.e.brochure)

What could Ram have done to use this idea? Ram has done an excellent project in the final year. He could have written 'as much details as practical' about his project work in his resume to make the 'interviewer' ask him questions in the interview. If Ram does not write 'enough' in the resume, interviewer will not ask him any questions due to which Ram's work and qualities will remain hidden from the interviewer. Will Ram get the job he wants after the interview?

Ram therefore has to learn the art of writing about his project in a language that will invoke curiosity in the interviewer's mind and will 'compel' him to ask questions, which in turn will enable Ram to showcase his qualities.

How do you write your resume?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Why and how to do MBA?

Rancho, the hero of 3 Idiots, says to the heroine 'Your prospective bridegroom is a fool. He did Engineering, then MBA and now he is working for a Bank. If he had to work for Bank, why did he do Engineering?'. Is Rancho right in his criticism?

Let us delve deeper to understand the two forces at work that has made the above possible: Demand of MBA skill set and pipeline of graduates that feeds the demand.

Demand of MBA skill set has been growing

Demand of MBA skill set has been growing because the 2-year course in MBA produced three speciality skills ( especially in India) : Finance,Marketing and HR that were required by growing private sector companies.

The boom of investment banking (increasing mergers, share market access, and disintermediation of funds) specifically fuelled the need of finance skill sets. Even though courses like CFA have sprung up to meet the demand gap, the organisational 'angle' of MBA still make MBA the favourites. If you observe the salaries offered at MBA Campuses, you will still find 'Finance' hogs the limelight. Sales and Marketing jobs in companies today are still filled mainly by these MBA's. Personnel jobs, inside India, are still filled by HR MBA's.

It is a myth that MBA course is meant to develop the skill of 'Management' ( Managing people and business operations). As Management is a 'doing skill-set', short courses of Executive MBA are more suitable to develop this skill-set than the 2- year full time course of MBA.

Options for graduates ( the pipeline doing MBA ) are shrinking

While the demand for MBA skill set has been growing, the options for graduates - the pipeline that supplies graduates to MBA course for post graduation - have been shrinking.

On the one hand, the jobs for graduates have been shrinking because companies can afford to get post graduates at the same price. Company prefers to give a job to MSc instead of BSc, if it has choice. Jobs for graduates are also not growing at the same pace. For instance, while Engineering graduates have increased in number ( Every year more than 2.5 lakhs graduate as Engineers in India), jobs for technology skills have not kept pace with this number. Therefore, for average graduates, option of MBA has been a ticket for a safe job. Why should graduates not prefer to do MBA?

Rancho will ask me: Why do above-average Engineering graduates join MBA when they can get better technology jobs? They do it because they realise their mistake of choosing technology as their graduating path. As i have discussed in my blog for students, thinking competency folds in unpredictable ways.Even Noble prize winners move from physics to biology to chemistry. How can a engineering graduate know that he will stick to technology?

Scenarios of doing MBA course

In my coaching, i have observed four different scenarios of graduates doing MBA. I am narrating Engineering examples below because they face this dilemma strongly than other professionals:

Scenario 1: A IIT student wants to do MBA to change his graduating path, because he is sure technology path is not meant for him. Follow this approach, if you can manage to get admission in Grade I MBA Institutes - the top 10 institutes - like IIM's. If however you cannot get admission in Grade I Institute, work for few years, and change over to MBA. This is a better approach, because it is far easy to 'assimilate' the teachings of MBA after work-experience.

Scenario 2: A student from top Engineering institute doing Electrical Engineering is not very sure of his choices - whether to do post graduation in Electrical or do MBA. This student should work for 2-3 years in Electrical Engineering and take a decision later to continue with Electrical or change to MBA. Only 'Engagement' with the activity tells us what we want. Morever, moving from Electrical to MBA is possible after 3 years; the reverse movement is not available after 3 years.

Scenario 3:
A student from an average Engineering Institute cannot get admission in Grade I MBA institute after finishing his graduation. In such a scenario, it is better to get admission in Grade II MBA institute with niche speciality. For instance, find a niche MBA, such as Rural Management.

Scenerio 4 ( alternative to scenario 3): If generic MBA is the only option, then you will have to do numerous things to exploit the advantage of doing MBA, such as focusing on specific industry like Banking or FMCG right from start, finding assignments with a live company and so on.This approach requires high degree of Career intelligence than other approaches.

Where do you fit?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Do not choose options for money?

While choosing their graduating paths, many students ask me if 'software' has a better future in terms of money, or if 'Accounts' has better potential of earning money? This is a wrong question to ask due to two reasons. One, money in a profession depends on the development of 'skill market' that are outside one's control or influence and two, future of a profession cannot be predicted in advance. Let me give you two examples.

Cricket was a non-earning game till 1980's. Even the best of the test-playing cricketers worked in companies to have the second income. I was quite surprised to see Eknath Solkar on a scooter in 1980 in Mumbai. The advent of TV and the success of world up in 1983 brought sea change in the revenues of cricket. Now even a player,like Yusuf Pathan or Rohit Sharma, earns enough from cricket without playing a single test. Even Sunil Gavaskar would be earning more money now than what he earned from his cricketing accomplishments.

Today, in the newspaper, i was reading about M.F Hussain's early life as artist. In 1950's, MF Hussain writes " ....we could not afford tea, so initially we used to order for two cups, then one of us would say that he wasn't in the real mood for tea and we used to cancel our one order". Post 1995, with the arrival of auction houses, picture has changed by 180 degrees. In 2008, MF Hussain's one painting sold at more than 1 million dollar !

This is what happens with any development of any market,be it product marke or skill market.

You are however lucky to be born in this era. Because, with globalisation & internet, the two drivers of growth, an individual with as narrow a skill as "teaching' alone can make enough money. Have you heard the story of Khan Academy? With penchant of teaching, this young man has got a funding of 1 million dollar. I know of a teacher in Vashi who trains mathematics to US students sitting in his house. Have you heard of man called Bansal who has changed the landscape of IIT coaching in a town called KOTA? His efforts has set up a coaching eco-system where a 'good teacher' can get a salary of 60 Lakhs pa in Kota..

Skill market today has undergone a significant transformation. Today, one can monetise a narrow 'skill' without depending on intermediary, such as organisation. Internet access has enabled one to cost-effectively 'reach' a very limited audience for a narrow 'skill'. This means that you can become 'best' in your area and expect the 'market' to fetch you the right revenue. You can do what you want without sacrificing 'money'.

Isn't that a huge advantage as compared to your grandfathers? My father waited for his retirement to do what he loved ( writing poetry) because he was born at the wrong time. You are twice lucky: one, because your father has created a platform for you to think beyond survival ( house and food!) and two, because the environment ( skill market) around you has changed to help you do what you like.

So, instead of thinking money as a criteria to decide your future path after graduation, either understand (your current strengths) what you are good at. Or understand what you like so much ( your current passion) that you will spare no efforts to be good at. Of course, i understand that finding both your passion or strengths is not a straightforward exercise. (We will discuss about 'how to do this' in the future.)

If you happen to possess a narrow skill, to monetise it well enough, you may face stiffer challenges and overcome taller humps ( which is possible to negotiate with higher career intelligence). But i can guarantee you one outcome: You will also be more happy with your life. If you however happen to possess a generic skill of technology, you still have to adequate career intelligence to ensure that , in you career, you will be 'happy' and have enough 'money'.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Post graduate options for Technology and Science graduates

I read Dipankar Gupta's article in TOI of 3rd June on why IIT's cannot be blamed for having a world class research set up.

Basically the article points out difficulty in setting an eco-system that research requires. It is not about having research budgets. IIT's, howsoever good it may be, cannot set up the eco-system by itself. It requires to work with industry. It is about working with other universities on topics of common interest. It is about getting the best talent, both as professors and students, to channelise the research. In short, those of you who wish to pursue PG options ( MS, Phd etc) after doing BE, BTech or MSC, have to pursue these options in other countries.

Who should pursue PG options

I have found it very easy to find which students are likely to pursue PG options. These students are the students who enjoy doing their graduation, who have a 'friend group' who like to take up challenges in a subject, who are amongst the 'top 20%' of the student in the class, and whose questions get answered diligently by the teachers.

Surprisingly, i have discovered that these students may not be the students who 'topped' in CET. Most of the time, they are in the 50%-70% percentile. Sometimes they seem to be 'ordinary' students. I know of a young student who was considered to be the last in the family in terms of his CET marks. ( By the way, Einstein could not get admission to Electrical Engineering course because of low marks ) But when he joined Engineering, he simply found his 'space'. I also know of a girl who was an average girl till BSC. While doing MSC, she found her footing, and went on to do PHD in Physics from US university. In short, your marks and earlier scholastic record may not give you any indication that you will pursue PG option.

How should one pursue PG option

More importantly, when you decide to plan for PG, plan on all the three items:

I. You need to find which university and college is right for your speciality.
II. You need to get adequate references to ensure that you will get admitted in the right college/universities.
III. You need to prepare adequately for GRE to get good score.

Adequate preparation is a key that makes a big difference in getting a PG degree versus getting an effective and useful PG degree.

I have seen students jumping to the easiest available option to join a course in not-so-good college, that they find it difficult even to get a job, leave alone PG research position. Sometimes, i have seen students, complete degrees by paying so much of money that they require another 5-10 years to repay the loan. Infact, you will find many students who live very very difficult lives in foreign countries because they are in this catch-22: neither can they find good jobs, nor can they return due to huge debts.

Out of these three items, students find lot of help on item III through coaching institutes. Many metro and Tier-I towns have GRE & Toeffel coaching institutes that can help student get good scores in these tests. They also advise in matters like writing a good 'brief', that is compulsory for getting a good admission. But they cannot provide specific assistance on item I and II.

However, students rarely work on item I, which makes it difficult for them to work on item II. This are the two items that make a big difference in the quality of PG option that you may pursue.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Difficulties in making engineering versus medical choices

Last week i found this data in the newspaper for the students who appeared for CET test in Karnataka. Out of the total 1,07,820 HSC students,

- 24,892 students appeared for PCM
- 1773 students appeared for PCB
- 81,155 students appeared for both PCB and PCM

Against this background,

- 13,197 qualified for medical ranks
- 54,804 qualified for Other medicine disciplines like Homeopathy
- 64963 qualified for Engineering ranks
- 728 qualified for Architecture ranks

This data shows one truth clearly: Most of the HSC students appear for both PCB and PCM and do not choose the discipline ( Engineering or Medicine) till the last moment. Many teachers and parents find this confusing, however if you pause and analyse, you will not be surprised.

You will find that some SSC & HSC students ( not just HSC students) can choose their disciplines easily. These are the students who are 'unidimensional'( who possess better skills in a specific area - be it engineering or medicine). For them, choosing the discipline is not difficult at all. However, my guess is that these students are not more than 5% of the total.

Rest of 95% students are multidimensional; who are good in many areas. For these students , choosing their discipline at the age of 15-17 is mighty difficult ! Because, for them, it is like choosing a chocolate from a tray of chocolates by only seeing the chocolates. If you have not tasted any of these chocolates earlier, how will you choose the chocolate to eat? Any amount of information on the chocolate, be it from internet, friends or experts, cannot give you the experience of 'taste' of a chocolate. Only way to choose is through recommendations of friends, advice of parents and elders, or simply by the attractive wrapper of the chocolate. This is what students do when they choose the discipline, be it after 10th or 12th class!

Some parents believe that one can choose the discipline by going through a battery of 'aptitude tests' ! Unfortunately, this is not possible due to two reasons. One, aptitude tests identify 'generic' aptitude and therefore not useful in choosing a 'discipline'. For instance, an aptitude test may tell a student that he is good in 'logical' , 'analytical' or 'mathematical' subjects. But with this aptitude, he can potentially become an engineer, economist, accountant and even a mathematician. Two, these aptitudes identify the 'potential' one has in a chosen subject or area. Whether the 'potential' will be converted into 'actual' skill depends on variety of factors, most of which are outside one's control. Not all cricketers, for instance, can convert their 'potential cricketing talent' into 'performance' ! ( Vinod Kambli's example in cricket is one unfortunate example!) In short, aptitude tests are not useful in helping a student make this difficult choice.

So what can a student at age 15/17 realistically do? First of all, he must understand that 'graduating path' may not become the 'career path'. In my career research, i have found that very few engineers, for instant, continue with the same path in their future career. I have seen engineers go into finance, management, public service, software and many other paths which do not use their 'engineering' background. This is very common in India, because of the constraints of Indian education system! A student studying in West ( US and Europe), for instance, does not face this constraint! He can graduate with multiple subjects and can choose a specific discipline only after he has finished graduation.

A student, having chosen a 'graduating path', either by design or by default, should then engage in 'self-exploration' to find what 'path' he should take next. Should he remain in the same graduating path ( of engineering, for instance) or should he find some other path ( say of finance or management)? .

Self-exploration involves knowing oneself as much as one can. It involves finding one's characteristics way of thinking and responding to situations, one's stock of beliefs and emotions, one's unique way of managing stress, and above all what one values in life.

As a graduate, you have to gain enough self-understanding that will help you choose your next path. For graduates, who find that the chosen path is right for them, self-exploration can be postponed. For graduates, who find that the chosen path of graduation has to be changed, self- exploration is a must. In a way, these graduates are lucky, because they will learn this essential skill of career-making earlier than others.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Shift from Science to Economics ?

Read a story in times of India about a student, Manu Rathore, from Jaipur. A typical science student who had scored 92.6% in CBSE Class XII. Like any other PCM student, he wanted to go into Engineering. While working on a project Consumer Awareness in Rural India' with Consumer Unity & Trust Society -- International (CUTS) - in a village near Amber in Jaipur, during summer vacation last year, he developed interest in economics. As he explained his interest in economics, he said, "I have realised a clear divide between the rural and urban India while working on the project. This gap can be bridged only with economic literacy".

Whenever we see such a change in career path, we are surprised. But there is often a clue in the past career track to suggest that this could have happened. So i searched for something. To my surprise ( not really!) i found one strong clue. His father, Vijay Veer Singh, is Head of department of economics, Rajasthan University (RU). Infact Manu belongs to a highly educated family with his mother a income tax commissioner in Mumbai. It is my gut feeling that, if we talk to Manu, we may find some more clues of his interest in Economics, that could have been seeded. The project in Economics only kindled the desire which was latent !

I had a friend of mine, whose son ( let us call him Anand) wanted to go to Engineering, after finishing his XIIth. He therefore joined a IIT course in Mumbai. However, he found a very good teacher in Economics in his school. Despite his avowed interest in IT as a special subject, he chose Economics as his special subject. I was not surprised. But unlike Manu, he does not have anyone close in the family who has done Economics. What do you think will he chose after 12th class? Engineering or Economics?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Do not follow others in making your career?

I met Abhijeet yesterday. He is a IIT'ian doing his third year degree in Material Science. He has gone into IIT after taking a drop one year at Higher secondary. He asked me 'What is CFA'? When i asked him the reason of asking this question, he said his other friends in IIT are also planning to do CFA and he would like to know if CFA is worth doing?

All the courses are good. CFA is good, MBA is good, learning SAP is good. But the real question that a student should ask is ' Is it good for me?' I have seen MBA students later doing IAS to join Government job, or CFA students taking over a NGO job and so on. Instead of thinking which course is good or bad, it is more useful to think whether the course is right for me or not?

Why do students start exploring such courses in the first place? Why is Abhijit trying to find about CFA in his third year of IIT when he has taken so much effort in entering IIT? ( Please remember that getting into IIT is more difficult than getting into Harvard !) As i pointed out in my blog for children, thinking competency unfolds in unpredictable ways. Having entered IIT, Abhijit has discovered that technology is not the path that is meant for him. And because he has discovered that IIT is not meant for him, he is exploring other paths. Everything attracts him. He finds all other options attractive.

As a careerologist, i would like to say Abhijit is lucky to find that 'technology path' is not meant for him. ( Many executives discover this in their 40's) But having discovered that IIT is not meant for him, he needs to explore other options methodically. Like a drowning man frantically splashing his hand, he should not frantically seek everything. Instead he needs to concentrate on finding what he is good at, or where his interests lie. He needs to explore his mind. Unfortunately, this skill is not taught in any course to any graduate. Unaware of how to explore his mind, Abhijeet is more confused. He is doing what most of us do: follow others.

Will mind exploration help him chose his path before he finishes his graduation? Given insufficient skills, the time may not be enough. In that case, he also has to prepare for Plan B. He has to find an alternative, because life does not wait for our decisions. This is all about being career- intelligent.