Five Practices to be a Rockstar Trainer – Towards Creating Successful Learning Experiences


The problem that many organizations face today is not a shortage of people in the market, it is a shortage of skills.  Research in Corporate Learning tells us that organizations suffer from a “skills supply chain” challenge. Not only do more than 70% of organizations cite “capability gaps” as one of their top five challenges, but many companies also tell us that it takes 3-5 years to take a seasoned professional and make them fully productive (Bersin Feb’14).

Shift Happens

So if you are a trainer, you are in quite an empowered position. A position of responsibility. And one of creating change – in peoples’ skill sets, their world views, the trajectories of their work and lives. Good managers and mentors need to be good trainers as well. But for the sake of this post, let’s stick to trainers and the practices that can make trainers empowered to deliver successful trainings – trainings that can expand the learning minds.  By the end of this post, I believe that you will agree with me that these practices can be applied to other positions of responsibility as well. For this post, I invited Nilisha Mohapatra to share her learnings from her experience as a trainer and as a trainer of trainers.

Each one of us at some point has interacted with a trainer and learned with them, mostly in a professional setting.  Trainers can be for a wide range of skills – from technical skills like agile methodologies, six sigma, process improvement, to soft skills such as communication, leadership and confidence. Trainers abide by content and experience, and whatever be the training, the objective is ultimately the same – to add value to an individual’s experience and expand her horizon.  Being a trainer myself, there are a few important things I have learnt over time that have helped me become more effective as a trainer, creating sharp impact. No matter what the training session is about, it is the uniqueness of the trainer’s methodology and approach that makes the difference between a Boring Brain-numbing session and a Useful Brain-expanding session. And to allow that edge to come into play, there are five things that I keep in mind always. Here they are:

You are a Facilitator. The trainer approach is somewhat passé now. A facilitator by definition is someone who creates a space for the group to come alive in, for collective learning to happen through group processes. A facilitator may or may not be subject matter experts. Even if they are, the practice is never inclined towards lecture-driven learning. It is more about creating an experience. Facilitators trust the group’s collective wisdom and take part in shaping skills through sharing of power and balancing group dynamics. I quite enjoy this approach as this allows me to blend with the group, breaking hierarchies. I view trainings/workshops as a developmental processes where my objective is to enable the participants with a new lens/skill. This process of enabling I believe is one of mutual participation, as opposed to a traditional directive. Hence, I am at a workshop to facilitate learning. Not give it.

If you feel you are listening enough, know that there is more to listen to. Listening happens at multiple levels. More so at the non-verbal levels. Many a times I’ve found a huge difference between what participants share vs what they really think. Try finding signals that can bridge the gap to create genuine and unique learning experiences. Resistant body language, sheer silence, questions, argumentative or defensive tones, extremely high or low energies are some indicators I always look out for.

The more you accept, the more change you can create. It is tough to take a neutral stand always as facilitators.  Being non-judgmental is a challenging skill to nurture, and requires a lot of unlearning. The key to being non-judgmental lies in acceptance.  Validating each person and just accepting their points of view, doubts, resistances, success, makes them feel heard. And then they move towards change of behaviour and skills by acknowledging the new direction suggested in the training. It is a buy-in process. I have had struggles with this. Each time I have not practiced acceptance, the learning has been incomplete or ineffective. Asking curious questions to understand, allowing a variety of opinions into the space, and solid breathing are ways to practice this. As I have accepted, I have changed. And as I have changed, so has the group. Visualize your mind as an open bowl, which keeps filling with what you experience, and never over flows. Be the light and not the critic to let the learning happen.

Change is a tumultuous process. Even in the easiest or safest of environments. Haven’t we all experienced change and been overwhelmed by it? So how can we expect a group of people to just take on something new in a jiffy, without any resistance? Shunning old ways is a mammoth task. A new skill needs practice, on top of all the other skills. A new programme needs testing. A new behaviour needs strengthening. All this needs time and is met with road blocks. Reminding myself of this process of learning has helped me be a more supportive facilitator instead of a demanding tyrant!

Everything that happens in the workshop is a process of feedback. The old saying of what goes around comes around plays out beautifully in a workshop. Always. Whenever I have given in more energy and life to the training, the participants have come alive, sharing more of their energy. When I have shared stories of my own learning and skill building process, that has helped me establish credibility and helped the participants understand the process of learning. If my tone, ideation, validation has been flat, I have only been met with blank faces. This is the potent feedback process that plays out in training, and it helps to be aware of it.


As I understand today, these practices are primarily about training myself first, before I try to engage someone else in a learning process. Isn’t that where the magic starts? In my experience, as and when I have put these practices to use, the more I have been able to unravel about human potential development. This has become my Pandora’s Box for workshops.  And people in leadership positions who have chosen these practices are some of the most charismatic and influential leaders I have known.

We would love to know what your thoughts and experiences are on enabling learning in workshops and in your teams. We look forward to hearing and learning from you.

Nilisha is trained as a Mentor Trainer, delivering complex training to Indian volunteers learning to become mentors to disadvantaged children. She has a Masters in Applied Psychology and has transformed herself into a creative and inspiring trainer who both taught acceptance and behaviour change as well as living the principles in her training. This is Nilisha (@NilishaM)’s sixth guest post for Happy In The Now and you can read all her blogs at fantasycluster.wordpress.com

Five Ways to Build and Sustain Company Culture – Business Performance Management


That mysterious thing called organizational culture – everyone loves discussing this topic. A company is doing well – credit goes to the culture. A company is not doing so well – blame goes to the culture. And it is perhaps true. Culture is critically important to business success, according to 84 percent of the more than 2,200 global participants in the last Booz & Company Survey (Infographic). But what is more surprising is that 96 percent said some form of culture change is needed within their organization with 51 percent believing that their organization is in need of a major culture overhaul. If organization culture is so widely accepted as a critical factor for a company’s success, and people believe the culture needs to change, why is this not happening? I think the problem lies in treating the whole culture thing as a mystery (that is here, there and everywhere, can be sensed but cannot be grasped – you get the drift) or as something that lies in the HR department’s purview (along with other mysterious things like employee engagement, succession planning, etc.).

Culture

Wiki defines Organizational culture as “the behavior of humans within an organization and the meaning that people attach to those behaviors. Culture includes the organization’s vision values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs, and habits.”

I would interpret this as the “how” in the company. How do we work on a daily basis – how do we interact with each other and with the external world, how do we react or respond to situations, how are our actions guided. I recommend you read “What Is Organizational Culture? And Why Should We Care? by Michael Watkins” – the post and the comments to see how many different interpretations there are of culture (no wonder it is a mystery).

For all my readers out there who want to delve into this mystery a little more and add to the already high discussion levels on this topic and perhaps bring about culture changes in their own organizations, this post is about building and sustaining company culture from my experiences in two stages of my career – as a team leader in mid-size and large companies and as a small business owner in the second year of my company.

Company Culture Builder #1 – Have a clear Vision, Mission and Values statement: This is where you define the culture of the company. It is critical that every employee knows and understands the vision of the organization and the values that it stands for. It needs to be simple enough or made simple enough that everyone in the company can understand them and get aligned to them. The idea here is to get people really involved and committed to the culture – logic and reason have their place, but in initiatives like this the emotions of people have to be tapped – and a clear mission, vision and values statement serves as a great way to bring everyone on the same page.

Company Culture Builder #2 – Hire people who embody these Values: No matter how talented a person is, if you don’t think that the person would be a cultural fit in the organization, resist the temptation and don’t make an offer. The people you hire are your ambassadors for culture, they will be the examples for the next set of hires. As they say, one bad apple spoils the basket – not only do you need to ensure that you hire, promote and reward people not just for skills or performance but for attitude and behaviour that aligns with the culture that you want to foster but also help people who are not aligned to be aligned or move them quickly out of the organization. When valued behaviours are not demonstrated, no matter where he/she is in the hierarchy, there should be consequences that show that such behaviour is no longer acceptable in the organization. This is important to establish accountability.

Company Culture Builder #3 – Understand Culture is not just Top-down: It is side-wise too. Yes, it does start at the top but it happens together – built through everyone’s behaviour and interactions in the team or company. Culture is everyone’s responsibility. Every person in the company should be walking the talk, walking it together, and knowing enough to course correct if some action in the day-to-day operations of the organization does not fit the culture.

Company Culture Builder #4 – Bring Culture in when solving Business Problems: I think this is the best way to bringing the theories to practice, to reducing the whole mystery about culture. When you have an irate customer or a profitability issue or a collaboration issue, that’s the time to do a root cause analysis that also assesses the problem based on what value was or was not used. Did we follow our culture? Were any of our values ignored? Based on what we stand for, what is the right thing to do now? Do we need to change anything in our culture so that this problem does not appear again? These discussions really help in reinforcing the message (and solving the business problem).

Company Culture Builder #5 – Focus less on Perks and more on building Trust and Respect: A cool office, a world-class gym, free food are all good but not at all the main factors that will make a company an employer of choice or build a culture that makes both customers and employees happy. These are short-term motivators only. Enough studies have been done to show that people want to work in an environment where they feel valued, respected and are making a significant contribution to a purpose larger than themselves (meaning). Therefore, creating a strong and healthy organizational culture is more than providing a few services that give a nice shiny surface gloss. Build trust and respect so that when one digs below the surface, one finds a strong and healthy foundation for a great culture.

Taking the digging analogy further, I want to end with these wise words from Edgar Schein, Professor Emeritus with MIT Sloan School of Management, and author of many best sellers including the Corporate Culture Survival Guide :

“Culture operates at many levels and certainly how we do things around here is the surface level. I like to think of culture to be like the lily pond. On the surface you’ve got leaves and flowers and things that are very visible; a visitor would see them. That’s the ‘how we do things around here;’ but the explanation of why we do things in that way forces you to look at the root system, what’s feeding it and the history of the pond, who planted what. If you don’t dig down into the reasons for why we do things this way you’ve only looked at the culture at a very superficial level and you haven’t really understood it.”

How would you define company culture? What do you think are the key factors to build and sustain a great company culture? I would love to hear back and learn from you.

Entrepreneurship is not Easy – Five lessons from my journey so far


No, I am not complaining. To live a life of my choosing and to do work that I love is a blessing indeed and I thank my stars every day for this. An adventure it is, but it is not all fun and games. And the next time one of my ex-colleagues from the corporate world tells me that I am living THE life and I have it all easy and set – be warned, I might just punch you. I was prepared for the hard work, the dedication and the perseverance that is needed to build something valuable from scratch – that’s the easy part. The hard part has been some of the experiences in the past two years since I moved from being an employee to a  micropreneur to an entrepreneur – some known, some forgotten, some unique, some learnt – but all experiences that have taught me some tough lessons. Lessons that I hope will help me grow and become more successful as an entrepreneur.

Today’s post is a summary of some of the jottings in my diary in the past year since I launched a full-fledged business – jottings that helped me understand, clarify internally and get clarity to take decisions. As I look back, some of the jottings assume special significance and I believe are worth sharing. So here are the big five lessons from my diary on entrepreneurship in the past year:

 Entrepreneurship - On a wing and a prayer

Entrepreneurship Lesson #1: A “NO” is not Personal – and I can’t move ahead if I don’t learn to recognise and accept all the nos quickly. I have reached out far and wide in my contacts to get more business. And of course, there are more nos than yeses.  And while I am really thankful for the yeses that got me started, it took me some time to accept that a no from my circle of contacts is not a personal rejection. Given all the nos, now I have this background track of a door opening and closing (with various levels of sound effects) playing in my mind whenever I make the pitch. There is the direct “bang” NO – brutal but efficient in the long run. There is the “creaking” half-hearted no – I will see what I can do (no), Call me next month (no), let’s wait for my budgets to be clear (no). And there is the deadly “total silence” no – no response at all to emails, calls, etc. I am a great believer in the power of sales funnel conversion stats – my belief in myself can be shaken but not my belief in the infallibility of numbers and metrics. It took me some time but now I have learnt to be happy with a no. The quicker I finish my quota of nos, the faster I can reach the yeses in wait for me.

Entrepreneurship Lesson #2: Every Hire is not a Great hire – With all my experience in hiring and managing people, this is one mistake that hit me hard. I have been very careful in building my initial team – this is the team that after all will determine what the company culture will be. The team that will walk the talk of the mission, vision and values and set examples for the rest to follow. It hurt when I realised that even after careful screening, I had hired someone who did not fit in with the core culture of my company. It hurt more when “sitting down” and having a discussion with the team member did not work. I had to take rapid action to let the person go. And that is the lesson – that even after being very careful, there will still be people who may be great performers but are not “right” for the organization. Hire slow and fire fast – strong words but very important ones for a startup.

Entrepreneurship Lesson #3: Every Customer is not a Great customer – And there will be times when I need to let a customer go. I have to let go of the temptation to add customers indiscriminately (and especially at the time when I can count all my customers on fingers of my hands). Being small and starting up, I needed to be careful about where I am directing efforts towards. And my fingers were burnt badly when I spent a lot of time and money working to satisfy a customer who though was known to me in my earlier life, I was not very comfortable taking on. There was a conflict in values when I initially assessed the opportunity and I should have listened to my gut feel/instincts that this conflict cannot be ignored and things will not work out. After a lot of back and forth and heartburn – it didn’t. Lesson learnt – I would rather stay small than compromise on what I need my business to stand for.

Entrepreneurship Lesson #4: Cash on Invoice is not Cash in the Bank – Can’t believe it even now, that I with all my revenue and cash flow management experience was sliding into this trap of false security. But I was – serves me right for building castles in the air and nearly building a few on the ground based on all the $$$ that I had raised invoices for. One big bill paid and my castles fell apart. And common sense came back. I now plan my costs and investments only based on the cash in the bank. Being self-funded, this is quite tricky but absolutely necessary for my peace of mind and my company’s financial well-being. That’s another thing about entrepreneurship – money balance in bank is the last thing on my mind before I go to sleep every night. Money was never a priority for me when I was in a job – never thought I would see this day or night :)

Entrepreneurship Lesson #5: Expect the Unexpected – I made an excellent business plan in December and had to throw out more than 50% of the planning on customers, revenue streams and sources by February end. Solid depression for a week (how could my planning have been so flawed? Who was I kidding? Is it time to wind up even before it starts properly?)  And then another revenue stream opened up. A customer was served up to me on a plate by a connection who I did not expect it from (thank you so much A). And I was back in the running :). Lesson learnt – things change. And things change rapidly. Have a Plan B (and C) in place. Be flexible and go with the flow. A plan is great but if the real world throws up some opportunities or challenges, be ready to grab them or fight them. And to prepare for change I now expect it and experiment with change by shaking things up and around a little bit more often in my business.

I have a long way to go yet and a lot to do. But if success is measured in terms of personal growth and experiences gathered, my first year as an entrepreneur has been quite successful. I am happy in the now and my team is happy in the now too :) – what else could I ask for? Right – more money in the bank would be a good ask too, but I will get there.

Intrapreneurs, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs-in-the-making – what do you think? Any advice for me – anything I should know now before I burn my fingers? Help me by sharing your thoughts and wisdom with me.

Pic courtesy – Flying_Solo_by_Chocoreaper

From Managing to Leading – Five Attitudinal Shifts To Become An Inspiring Leader!


Why is it so difficult to find great leaders in the world of work? What is the missing element that makes most super achievers fall short of being super leaders or mentors? What does it take for a skilled manager to become an inspiring leader as well and why do so many managers fail to make this leap? In this disruptive world, there is a burning need for leaders. Much has been written on this topic but there is always space for a new perspective. For today’s post, I invited Nilisha Mohapatra to share her insights on this topic. She has studied and worked in the Human Potential Development field and is a keen observer of people in work environments.

A few thoughts on management and leadership from John P. Kotter before we move on to the insights – he has said that “leadership and management are two distinctive and complementary systems of action” and that “leadership complements management – it doesn’t replace it….strong managers produce predictability, stability and order, but leaders create, communicate and implement visions of the future, which enables companies to change themselves in a changing competitive marketplace.”

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader ~ John Quincy Adams

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader ~ John Quincy Adams

Organizations are all about its people – which is why, a lot of research has gone into understanding what motivates people! This breadth of on-going research and innovation underlines one fact for me – that people management is the most crucial and most dynamic aspect of an organization. It is difficult too, because there are people involved. So many of them!

So how does one make the shift from managing people to leading people?

There are no cookie-cutter fixes for people management. The more I mull over this, I realize that for me it is all about attitude shifts that we need to bring about, rather than finding tricks for success. It all starts with the mind-set. As Gautam Buddha says, ‘The mind is everything. What You think, You become.’
Let this saying be our Pole Star for this blog post.

Here are my five cents to answer this big question:

1. People are capable and able of owning their careers and their lives. They do not need to be ‘managed’. I believe, all people need, is active mentoring and inspiring leadership. Each individual has a Pandora’s Box of talent within them. I mean it. All it takes is a nudge here, a push there, humaneness and occasional guidance, to unlock this. I have known a lady who continued in a data entry job for 10 years because her seniors believed her capability rested there. The moment she received mentoring to try out something new, she soared. Today she is a successful artist, creating social change using various arts media! This happened when she was at the receiving end of trust, acknowledgement of strengths, encouragement for risks, and effective role modelling. This approach is a belief system shift. It can create magic.

2. Respect people for the choice they make to work with You. The part about the choice here is to believe that many people take up their jobs because they want to do that work. They are drawn to it, have a passion or vision for it. They do not just take up a job for the sake of it.  It is for us to really respect this very choice and nurture it. They choose to join You in the journey/trajectory of your organization and career, to work with you. Not for you. With You. If we can accept and value this, it will go a long way in the team members really having a sense of purpose in their careers, feel more valued and encouraged to contribute more. Engagement will sky-rocket.

3. Invest in people’s learning, and let them grow. At every point of our careers, we all need to learn. We grow because we learn. The higher up we go in our careers and seniority, the more privileged we are to work with increasing number of people. At that point it is then our responsibility as Mentors to facilitate the same kind, or even better opportunities than ours, for our team. Believe it or not, the learning is going to reach you eventually. The beauty of your experience comes into play when you mentor such growth. Investment can be in the form of allowing them to experiment, implement multiple ideas, unleash their creative thinking etc. When you can, create opportunities to invest in your team’s growth. You will foster high performance!

Be instrumental in polishing uncut diamonds.

4. Appreciation: Criticism = 4: 1. It is a scientifically proven fact by psychologist John Gottman that we need to have a 4:1 ratio of positive comments to negative (four acknowledgments for every one correction) in all relationships to have a healthy one. As mentors, we need to LIVE this. This practice really allows you to validate and acknowledge each of your team members for their work. They will feel seen and heard. What is wonderful about this practice is how it opens up the space for each person to receive constructive feedback and accept the room for improvement. If we want them to do more and be more, this would be a great place for us to start with. Genuine validation is all it takes. Start with 3:1 and then get to 4:1.

5. Be Authentic. Be real and allow the person that you are, to come through in your interactions. This is a great way to build a trustful and synergetic environment in your team. This for me is also purely about walking the talk, and leading from within. If you want to motivate someone to be more accountable, you yourself have to take on the next level of accountability. Want your team to take more risks? Demonstrate risk taking. Set the tone with this authenticity. That way everyone knows that You as a mentor will always have their back!

Over time as I have discussed these ideas with people I meet, I have been told that such mentors are a rare breed indeed. And I understand why it is so. Because this is a conscious and persistent choice we are talking about, which will undo years of conditioning, which might have its roots in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution! But I firmly believe that with these five attitudinal shifts, we can really transform the landscape of ‘people management’ into ‘people mentoring’. And that is the need of the hour.

“We all need to be leaders, regardless of our formal title or role. This starts with inner self-leadership and moves outward to influence, guide, support, and lead others. The process of becoming a leader is the same as the process of becoming a highly effective human being. Leadership development is personal development. Leadership ultimately shows itself in what we do “out there.” But it starts “in here.” “~Jim Clemmer – Growing the Distance

Be your indulging mentor. Let it start with you, because You Matter! I believe that the choice to start a phenomenal trend, lies with You. So let it roll!

What have we missed ? What are your observations on making the shift to inspiring leadership ? Nilisha and I would love to hear back and learn from you.

Nilisha is trained as a Mentor Trainer, delivering complex training to Indian volunteers learning to become mentors to disadvantaged children. She has a Masters in Applied Psychology and has transformed herself into a creative and inspiring trainer who both taught acceptance and behaviour change as well as living the principles in her training. This is Nilisha (@NilishaM)’s fifth guest post for Happy In The Now and you can read all her blogs at fantasycluster.wordpress.com


Pic Courtesy :

http://www.theolivebranchblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/lead-by-example1.jpg

From a Recruiter’s Diary – Five Expectations from a Job-Seeker to ensure a Win-Win Job-Hunt


A recruiter starts work every morning with one objective – find the best candidate for her client and fill the open position FAST. A candidate hunting for a job wakes up with this thought – may today be the day when I land my dream job. Notice the similarity between the two objectives – so why not work together with MUTUAL RESPECT to achieve this common goal? You may have been contacted by recruiters many times, whether you are looking for a job or not, and you may or may not have been interested by what she had to offer. How did that conversation go? I have a feeling – not very well most of the times. And if I ask the same question to a recruiter, she would also say the same. Surprise – a recruiter is a person too! And is a useful person to cultivate, an useful relationship to nurture – not just when you are changing jobs but also when you are not so you are prepared (Per stats, today, the average person changes jobs ten to fifteen times (with an average of 11 job changes) during his or her career).

So today’s post is from the view point of a recruiter for the job-hunting candidate. She wants you to succeed because in your success lies her success. And she has a few expectations from you, the potential hire, so that the common goal of a win-win job hunt for both can be reached. So here is how you can help her help you:

1)      Craft a complete resume:  Your profile should be tailored for you – please skip the long sentences with all the nice-looking Resume Myths vs. Factsbuzz words. A recruiter will spend a maximum of 30 seconds to determine if your profile is suitable. Be direct and prepare your resume in such a way that your qualifications, skills and achievements are searchable and stand out. Link to your work portfolios or online profiles (Social media links, About.me, etc.) or blogs so that there is an additional outside reference to your skills. Here are some myth-busting tips on resumes in the infographic alongside brought to you by the team at Almagreta Resume Templates.If you are not sure about your resume and need another set of eyes on it before you ship, send it to us at Contact@oorjabizops.com and we will review it for you (for free).

2)      Be Visible: Update your profile regularly. A resume should always be a work-in-progress document and have your latest details – your latest contact details (make sure your email id is a professional one by the way – crazylover777@xxx.com is a sure reject in the first 5 seconds of a resume review), your years of experience, your preferred job location/s, new skills all help the recruiter shortlist your candidature quickly.  Regular updates also help keep your profile on the top of search results in job boards. Create a separate folder in your mail box for achievements and drag those appreciation mails and promotion letters in there – big help to jog your memory if you are one of those people who update their resumes once in five years or maybe a decade.

3)      Be Responsive: The common courtesy rule: treat people the way you would want to be treated – applies with recruiters as well. Respond please – to emails, to calls – even if it is a no, thank you. If you are busy, a short email or text stating your available times (even when it is “please don’t contact me ever”) will save the recruiter time and not keep her hanging. If you do give a time slot, plan ahead and be available – being late for an interview is just not done. If you can’t attend, please do inform in advance so you don’t keep a bunch of people waiting. Professionalism pays. And being nice pays as well.

4)      Be Honest – Know what you want. Think it through before committing yourself. If you are not clear about what path to take on your career or what step to take next, be upfront and discuss this with the recruiter. She will respect this and may be able to provide you with options or opportunities that work for you. Nothing is more frustrating to her than last minute surprises – if you are not interested, just say so. If you are not ready for the interview – say it, her information and insights can help you prepare for it  If you have another offer (a promotion, another job) – say it, it may help you get a better offer. If you don’t want to join after accepting the offer, say it – don’t wait for the day of joining and not turn up. You waste everyone’s time and energy (including yours) not to mention the chances of another candidate like you who could be assessed instead.

5)   Engage – Network with recruiters. If you have had bad experiences with one recruiter, don’t lump the rest in the same bucket. Find the recruiters who work in your industry and who understand your career goals and reach out. Keep in touch. Build a relationship – this is one person you need in your corner when you are looking out for a career change. Keep track of the recruiter and through her, her clients, just like she is keeping track of you. Refer your friends. Find out about hiring trends and upcoming opportunities from her. Give value and get value back – this can definitely be a mutually beneficial relationship. Maybe you don’t need a job now, but she could open up a few doors for you when you do need one. P.S: You can start by engaging with me and my team at Oorja Biz Ops on Facebook and LinkedIn  :)  

 

I have been on the other side of the fence as well for fourteen years and have my pet peeves on recruiters – lack of responsiveness and forthrightness, cookie-cutter approach and more. I am sure you do as well. But I think mutual respect can be key to a great relationship and a successful story here much like in every other relationship. What do you think? Whether you are a recruiter or a job-seeker, I would love to hear back and learn from you. Share your stories. Share your experiences. Share your tips.

Five Ways the Cloud can rev up Operational Excellence for your Startup or Small Business


For the past year, I have been experimenting quite successfully in running my business through the cloud. I am no techie and this was not a planned model initially. However, I was clear that I needed to enable a flexible working environment for my team and ensure that my capital expenditure stays as close to zero as possible in the early stages. I had tried out tools like Box, Dropbox, Evernote and Skype for my personal use and loved the flexibility and ease-of-use they provided. So, it was a natural leap for me to integrate them into my business as well. And now that the business is growing, I went to my go-to-person for all things technical for advice on an IT plan and investments needed (I still don’t own a single server and that “felt” kind of uncomfortable when I remembered the huge server rooms at the businesses I have worked in). Turns out that I have actually been doing it right and have been part of a trend that is the new normal :) . After I finished my feel-good pat-my-own-back session, I requested Shashwat, my go-to person, techie geek turned cloud solutions SME to write down what he told me in the form of a blog post so that I can share this with everyone. Here is his take on how cloud computing is not just for the biggies but is also a boon for startups and small businesses.

Cloud Computing for Small Business and StartUps

Software as a service (SaaS) has been around since the 60s, when IBM and other mainframe providers introduced the concept of time-shared computing. ISVs would host their code on remote servers providing functionality to enterprises on a subscription basis. With the advent of the internet and its increased adoption in the 90s, it gave way to a more efficient and ever-present way of computing, popularly known as cloud computing.

With higher internet speeds at reduced costs, cloud computing can be a boon for your start-up. Here’s why –

1)   Productivity on the go – Productivity has been revolutionized with the arrival of personal devices. The information worker has gone desk-less and enterprise IT has been consumerized. With the Bring-your-own-device culture gaining popularity in major conglomerates, it only makes sense for startups enable their workforce with such power. With cloud storage and cloud apps, the information worker can be more agile and help the startup be nimble. There are multiple platforms/vendors to choose from, to suit your organizational needs. From software development to basic word processing, all workloads can be hosted in the cloud. And with unlimited storage options, all you projects/files are omnipresent – all the time.

2)   Reduced capital and operational costs – The world’s best companies started in a garage, and not with a lot of money. Investing in a resilient IT infrastructure might not be an option available to every aspiring startup. The costs of deploying and maintaining an IT backbone, could be an expensive deal even for a small startup. For many, investing the money to the business would make more sense. The cloud helps you run your IT, without having to worry about maintaining or upgrading it – You will always have the latest and greatest. Thick clients are a thing of the past now, thus helping you reduce the need for expensive end user computing. Effectively, all you need is a browser J

3)   À la carte Computing – Efficient use of IT hardware is always a concern for enterprises. You don’t want to under-size the environment to save cost and run into performance issues, OR invest a lot of money to buy real beefy hardware and have them sit underutilized. With fast growing organizations, scalability becomes a constant issue and a drain on your finances. Enter – CLOUD – you use what you pay for, you pay for what you use. The user-feature based licensing model, helps companies to pick and choose what they want to use, without having to worry about hardware costs. Scalability??? Not a problem, you can scale your user base on the fly with a few clicks of the mouse.

 4)   Boosted Collaboration – Audio/video conferencing, file sharing and web apps – 90% of my workday is spent on these workloads. With teams becoming more virtual now, geo locations cannot be a hindrance to productivity. Efficient use of the cloud tools ensures that people collaborate successfully. You never have to email a single project file back and forth. Multiple people can consume and work on the same data from different locations simultaneously. Business intelligence and reporting has been simplified to a few clicks.

 5)   Increased continuity of service – “The cloud is always on” – You can get to it from anywhere, anytime. Businesses spend a lot of money to ensure that their systems are resilient and highly available, increasing the overall complexity of the environment, with constantly increasing operational costs. A subscription based model eliminates the need for a business to plan for unplanned service interruptions. You pay a one-time subscription fee, the vendor takes care of everything else. Many cloud vendors out there also offer financially backed service level agreements for mission critical workloads, so you can concentrate on your business worry free.

So, there you go – Cloud solutions enable you to concentrate on your business and run IT, quite practically with a credit card. :)

Cloud Tools/Solutions for your reference:

Cloud storage:

Onedrive for business – https://onedrive.live.com/about/en-us/business/

Box.Net for business – https://www.box.com/business/

Google drive – https://drive.google.com/ob?usp=web_ww_intro

Business email and productivity:

Microsoft Office 365 for small business – http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/business/compare-office-365-for-business-plans-FX102918419.aspx?tab=1

Google apps for business – http://www.google.com/enterprise/apps/business/

Unified collaboration:

Skype for business – http://www.skype.com/en/business/

Microsoft Lync online – http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/lync/meeting-software-compare-lync-plans-FX103842081.aspx

Google hangout – http://www.google.com/+/learnmore/hangouts/

Social for the enterprise:

Yammer – www.yammer.com

Chatter – https://www.salesforce.com/chatter/overview/

Today’s post is by Shashwat Mohapatra. Sash is a Client Success Manager and has about 10 years’ experience working as a trusted advisor with large Fortune 500 enterprise organizations in various business verticals around the globe, focused on helping enterprise customers consistently improve IT health, drive successful projects and migration deployments.

Did you find this post useful? How have you used cloud for your business? We would love to hear back and learn from you.

Five Thoughts on Key Performance Metrics through Five Favourite Quotes – Operational Excellence


Numbers tell stories – and metrics are the tools through which these stories get shape and substance. And yes, I am mad about metrics. Most of my readers come to this blog to read my posts on key performance metrics – business, sales, project, human resources and more. So I know I am not alone in my fascination for metrics. There are tons of metrics to choose from and the right performance metric for your business may not be the right one for mine. I have been asked many times on how to know when to introduce metrics, what the right metric is, and how to work the metrics so that the metrics work for you. So through this post, I will try to answer these questions through another passion of mine – quotes! I LOVE quotes (as do the majority of internet users going by the number of quotes shared every minute) – do you too get the feeling sometimes when you read a quote – ahh, I totally get that one, I wish I had written that – an Eureka Moment ?

Quotes are distilled pieces of wisdom. And when it comes to metrics, my experience is that getting the perfect metric and the perfect outcome as a result of tracking the metric needs a lot of hard work and experimentation – so wisdom from people who have been there, done that certainly goes a long way in making the metrics journey easier. So, here are the five pieces of wisdom that have helped me crystallize my approach to key performance metrics:

Performance Metric Quote #1: “Measure what is measurable and make measurable what is not so.” –Galileo

From the Father of Modern Science comes this gem. The thought to keep in mind when you have to begin from the beginning with metrics. The second half of the quote – make measurable what is not so – stands out to me – just because you can measure something easily is no good reason for measuring something. Metrics need to be tied to the desired business outcomes. And we need to spend some time assessing what metrics we have already and what metrics we need, and then going back to work on creating the systems and processes that will provide the data for quantification in a shape and form that will allow us to measure that. Data collection, analysis and management is most often cost and labour-intensive – so that part should always be weighed against the benefit derived from the metric. Don’t start something you can’t sustain in the long run.

Performance Metric Quote #2: “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” – Hans Hofmann

What not to measure is sometimes more important than what you do measure. Selection of the right performance metric for your business is critical. Do not introduce metrics just for the sake of metrics – it serves no one and the whole purpose is defeated. Start with what is the business goal that you need to track and improve, what are the processes related to that goal, and what metric would best reflect the productivity of the process. Measure only that which is important, that which provides real value to the process in question, which can be easily understood by all stakeholders and is ACTIONABLE.  Control your love for metrics and don’t produce reams of excels and slides and/or dashboards that make peoples’ eyes glaze over right from the start. Be ruthless in cutting down the unnecessary so that the necessary can stand out and shout.

Performance Metric Quote #3: “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything.” Ronald Coase

One of my favourites and sorry to say, one that I am reminded of time and again in the corporate world. Data through metrics must speak the truth even when (and especially when) it does not serve our personal needs. As professionals, we have a responsibility to ourselves and our organizations to be honest, transparent and collaborative. How you measure is as important as what you measure. Don’t devise metrics out of the data just to show things in a good light or in a bad light – keep doing that and there will soon be nothing left to measure. Design the metrics and the data collection systems in such a way that it throws the spotlight on the business outcome and is balanced to reward productive behaviour and discourage “game playing”.

Performance Metric Quote #4: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter F. Drucker

This one is a popular quote and one that has served me well every time I enter a new setup or review a long running process. Business is dynamic, why should metrics remain static? What made sense to measure last month, quarter or year may have become completely irrelevant to measure today. Many a times I have found during reviews, metrics that no one remembers why it is being used, knows who is using it or where it is being used. Trust me, the same is true for many processes as well. There may have been a good reason once sometime in the past that makes absolutely no sense today. So keep reviewing, keep questioning and keep going back to the drawing board with your list of chosen metrics so that they remain relevant and useful.

Performance Metric Quote #5: “An idea not coupled with action will never get any bigger than the brain cell it occupied.” – Arnold Glasow

Do I see you nodding your head to that? All data, dashboards, metrics are useless unless the knowledge and insights derived from them are translated into action.  Ask yourself – what story does this metric say, how can it help the leadership make the right decisions (more, less, better, different?) and arrive at an action plan when necessary? Every metric should be mapped to an end goal and have an action plan defined for improvement, sustenance and excellence. The action plan reviews should go hand in hand with the metric reviews feeding each other in a continuous loop. If the metrics are chosen carefully and presented properly, then, in the process of achieving their metrics, people will make the right decisions and take the right actions that enable the organization to maximize its performance. And that is when you know you have done your job well.

So, there you have it, the method and mechanism behind key performance metrics through learned wisdom. Metrics matter, metrics need work for them to work, metrics tell a story – the ending of which you have the power to change. Make your Metrics Rock!

What is your favourite performance metric quote? What wisdom have you gathered on setting key performance metrics ? What has worked for your business and what has not? I would love to hear back and learn from you.

P.S : Gratitude to Judy Gombita (@jgombita) for pushing me to stretch myself  – thank you, Judy for your faith in me.

Pic Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rubyblossom/4674821065/

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