Follow by Email

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why graduates find it tough to produce results in the first job

Some graduate students take short time ( 1-2 years) to convert their academic and non-academic abilities into work-related skills after they start working.

This transition is smoother either because they get the right jobs to work, or because the companies support them in this transition through training, or because they find the right boss who guides them through this transition.

However, about 70% of the unlucky students ( these are my guess estimates based on my experience of coaching) find this transition very tough. Either they go through a long period of adjustment lasting as long as 3 to 5 years. Why do these graduate/Post graduate students take such a long time for converting their academic abilities into work-skills after they start working? 

This graduate faces the challenge because he is not fully in control of his task output. Instead, he has to influence others in helping him. How can he do this?

For example, let us understand what a graduate has to do to produce results in a Sales job ( because sales is a very result-oriented job) in a company selling industrial products. This involves three stages.

Stage 1 is of understanding the tasks components of producing results in one's function, understand the inter-connections between the upstream and downstream functions that tie the work-process to produce the whole output. The second stage is of Doing the given task.Third stage is of diagnosing and re-directing the efforts to deliver the results.

Stage 1: Understanding the work involved 

a. Understand the task components of producing results in sales function 

Selling primarily is the task of converting a 'suspect' client into an end customer. To understand more about selling, see this blog. To do this task, the graduate has to take four steps.
  • First step is desk oriented. The graduate has to use reasoning ability to understand the technical nature of his product using his learnt knowledge during graduation. He also has to understand buyer's use of the product and what benefits he gets from using the product. He also has to understand the competitor's products and how they fare in comparison to his product. This step requires cognitive skills. 
  • Second step is call-preparation. He has to find the possible companies who will buy his product, find the right person in that company, and call them to take prior appointment. This stage is sometimes prolonged. 
  • Third step is interacting with the customer to convince him about the product's benefits. This requires interpersonal ability. This step may further require getting background information so that the talk is more pointed. This task is 'on-line'. 
  • Fourth step is closing the call and taking the order from the customer. 
b. Describe the entire value-chain and understand the rules of value chain  

A value chain starts from the understanding what the outside customer requires and ends with fulfilling that customer requirements. For instance, Entire value chain includes Marketing, Sales, Production and delivery, Commercial transaction, and After sales services.

Understand the rules of value chain.

Rule 1: Upstream function impacts the efficiency and effectiveness of the downstream function.  For instance, if the tele-marketer in Marketing is better in shortlisting the customers, in Sales you will get more 'ready' customer which will increase your efficiency. 

Rule 2: Allocation of resources within the functions also impacts the output of your work. If more money is being spent on 'marketing', you may get better 'customers' to call in Sales. But re-distribution of resources is a strategic decision. You must understand your company's allocation of resources. If your company decides to spend more money on 'selling', and less on marketing, it will increase your effort. 

Rule 3: Power structure of the different functions within the company impact your work. If 'sales' function is the 'blue-eyed' function in the company, you will get all the benefits of being in the function. On the other hand, if after-sales service is the key function, you will have to struggle to get your ideas heard. 

Stage II: Do the 'given' task to produce the results in sales function 

This stage is in your control. 

Once you start doing the four tasks of selling every day, you will start producing the 'sales' results. Your efficiency of doing these tasks is determined by your effort: by the way you plan your day, by the way you call the customers, by the way you prepare for the call,  and so on.

As you keep on improving your 'planning of time', you will be able to meet more customers and close more customer orders. Your results will keep on improving with better planning, better calling and better coordination. 

But sooner or later, you will meet a dead end of improvement. Because one cannot improve one's function without 'impacting' other functions. 

Stage III: Re-direct the efforts when the desired results are not produced 

Results are not produced automatically.

When, for instance, you fail to meet your sales targets one month, you will diagnose. You may find that the tele-marketing staff in "Marketing function' has changed. And that resulted in your calling 'unprepared customers'. Your call efficiency dropped because you have been calling unprepared customers. But what can you do next month? How can you influence telemarketing function with no power? If you want to influence that function's work, what options you have?

Or you may get many complaints from the after-sales function team. You will discover that the problem has happened because you took orders with 'different specifications'. You also knew that you took that order because your 'boss' pressed you to take it to meet 'total monthly target of sales'. But you are left alone in fending the complaint. What will you do? What can you do? 

Conclusion 

When a graduate starts working in a company, he is rarely trained in using all the three stages of work: Understanding, Doing the work and Re-direction of efforts based on results. He is only told about Stage II and urged to do his own task better, faster and easier. No help is provided to him to perform Stage III of Diagnosis to improve his output or to influence other functions. He is left on his own.

Graduate is clueless because he does not know he is working in a socio-technical system. Work in an organisation is done through end-to-end processes which include compartmentalized functions that are highly inter-dependent. Each function has its own agenda for which the function is responsible. That function's agenda may sometimes hamper the output of 'whole'. Further, the functional work is done by people who are rational and emotional, calculative and unpredictable, the blame is easily passed to the least 'powerful'. So it is not just about 'technical work'.

Some graduates learn to negotiate this system from their bosses. Some graduates have an option of lots of time because they are protected by good teams. Some learn it because of long induction training. Some learn it from their senior colleagues.

But many graduates feel helpless and clueless because they do not know what can they do. They feel like victims in the 'corporate jungle' ready to be devoured by any predator. Unable to understand the 'systemic' jungle, they cannot negotiate it.

But until they learn to negotiate the systems, they cannot use their cognitive skills learnt during graduation to produce the desired result in a job. Graduates require three skills ( primary cognitive skills, secondary cognitive skills, and ancillary skills) to produce these results. And until they produce the desired results in their work, they cannot get the benefits of higher salary, promotion, recognition and achievement.