Saturday, August 16, 2014

7 Deadly Sins of New Managers

Until machines take over every piece of work, we will need people to perform tasks. And as long as people are employed, business will need managers. Here are 7 terrible mistake which managers must avoid.

Though these lessons are more applicable for new managers, I have observed even tenured managers making these mistakes. Once again, without claiming to be an expert, this is my inference basis 10+ years of management experience.

1. Don’t get confused between who you are with what you do – Don’t play God. While decision making is part of your job, don’t decide fates of people.

2. Not everything in life that counts can be counted – While every business must deliver profitability but remember that you are working with people, not machines. Next time, try doing a “heart count” instead of “head count”.

3. Don’t pretend – People are smart enough to spot the difference. Pretending to care or to listen is worse than not doing it.

4. You don’t have to be wrong for others to be right – There will be times when people with less experience will have better answers than you, that don’t mean you are wrong. Accept it. 

5. You don’t have to solve everything – Give them a chance. Remember; not everyone can be a leader but great leader can come from anywhere. Someone gave you the chance, you should have faith too. 

6. Don’t appear stressed - Just like smile, stress is contagious. It will spread to your team, if you carry it. Team looks up to you, be calm.

7. They don’t work for you – Your team works with you, not for you. Performance is best when people want to do something. Participation will only come when they see you as part of the group.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

What if LUCK runs out? (Part 2)

Before I dwell deeper in to factors that could determine outcome, I read more about what others say or think about instincts. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winning psychologist, co-wrote a research paper with Amos Tversky, which Daniel termed as his favourite; “On the Psychology of Prediction”. Contrary to Richard Wiseman’s view of relying on your instincts, Daniel argues that intuitive judgments are often unreliable because people base predictions on how well an action or event fits their story. Paper argues; successful outcome depends on three key factors (a) Prior or background information, (b) specific evidence concerning the individual case, (c) and the expected accuracy of prediction.

Let me elaborate it with an example. Let’s say it’s about my chances of winning a lottery. Statement 1: Only 2% of people, who play lottery, win. This is our background information. Statement 2: Lottery agent claims that last five people, who bought the tickets from him, won the lottery. This is our specific information. Key to accurate prediction is to give correct weightage to each factor. In my case, despite of last three people winning the lottery, my chances of winning will largely be based on prior or background information, i.e. only 2% of people eventually win the lottery. Fact that last three people won the lottery doesn't increases or changes my chance of winning the prize.

Both Richard & Daniel are experts on psychology. Both suggested their own ways to achieve successful outcome. Difference to me lies in the scope. While Daniel’s recommendation focuses on successful predictions, Richard’s research shows how to be successful person. However, their contradictory view on intuition confused me further.

Let me now shift focus on to Luck. What is Luck? According to the classic Noah Webster's dictionary, Luck is "a purposeless, unpredictable and uncontrollable force that shapes events favourably or unfavourably for an individual, group or cause". Author Max Gunther defines it as "events that influence one's life and are seemingly beyond one's control". Alright, so luck is beyond control and luck is unpredictable. So why do they say; Harder you work, Luckier you get? It’s true in the sense that it improves the success rate but working harder doesn’t really change your luck. So what does it really do? It adds to your effort rate, resulting in greater push to reach the finish line.

Without digressing much, let me get to what I summarized as the factors impacting final outcome. I feel any outcome is net total of four factors; Skill, Effort, Environment & Luck. While Skill & Luck have been featured in lot of articles, including Michael’s book on Success Equation, I haven’t seen much about influence of effort & environment on outcome. In a way, these two are my twist to existing tails. I have already explained a lot about luck, let’s look at other factors.

Skill - Skill is the learned ability to carry out a task with pre-determined results often within a given amount of time, energy, or both. Skill can be acquired & can be enhanced through persistent practice. There may be tasks that don’t need skill, like; predicting outcome of a coin toss. Quick way to identify if an activity relies on skill or not, is to ask yourself; can you loose on purpose? If the answer is yes, outcome doesn't solely depend on luck, because you can only loose on purpose if you control part of outcome through your skill.

Effort – Effort is defined as a vigorous or determined attempt. It is different from skill. To me, it basically includes the passion or desire, creativity to achieve better results. One may have all the skills but without enough motivation or passion degree of success can be lower. Would you agree? For instance, great cricketer like Sachin can also fail if he is not focused. Of course there are other reasons of failure but magnitude of your effort & your motivation definitely plays its part.

Environment – This one is the trickiest. It exists but not always visible, it can be influenced to some degree but can’t be controlled. To me, it’s different from luck. Remember, luck cannot be influenced or controlled at all. Environment is at the realm of your task. Consider it as combination of human & natural circumstances that will impact your outcome. It can best be dealt with better foresight. In business sense, it is the planning part of your activity. Identifying risks, preparation to handle your stakeholders, mode of communication etc. are part of Environment. Remember Environment can be your catalyst or barrier.

Now that I have explained the factors, here is the Equation:

We corporate people (including me) are always in hurry. We don’t have time for theoretical gyan. If we can’t apply it, it’s of no use. So, this is how equation can be leveraged for task specific self-evaluations.

Evaluate first three factors (S, E, & E) for your task. Assign a number from 0 to 3 to each of these factors. Consider Low, Medium, and High for 1, 2 and 3 respectively. Add all numbers. Why did I exclude luck? We cannot predict luck; hence no number can be assigned to it. Luck can be good or bad. It can either increase or decrease your total. This is how you need to interpret the result:

  • Assume final Outcome is equal to 12
  • Closer your total of S, E, and E is to 9, better is your chance of succeeding in your task and lower is your dependency on luck
  • If your total is below 6 or lower, you relying too much on luck. You should stop and try to improve your skill, increase your efforts, and understand your environment better
Let me explain this with an example. Amrita wants to be a successful baker. She wants to run a profitable bakery shop of cakes & deserts. This is her task. I asked her to score on Skill, her answer was 2. On Effort, she gave herself a 3. She thinks Environment is a 1. Environment in this case can be support or challenges she can face from family, friends. It will include the competition she may face from market; after all making good stuff is irrelevant if you cannot sell it. Her total lands at 6. She can start the venture but she is relying too much on luck, unless she improves her skill score or prepares well for the environment. You can apply this equation to any project or task at any point when you wish to ascertain its success.

To conclude, we can’t control luck but we can improve three other factors that influences outcome, after all successful outcome is all we aspire for. Hopefully, luck will never run out. I know it doesn't solve my mystery of car accidents but I learned new stuff in the journey to decode luck, I hope you did too.

I don’t claim to be a research scholar on this subject. This article is merely my interpretation of said topic, which I represented with all my heart. Share it with others if you like it. If you did not, I feel for the time you invested in reading through this blog. Nevertheless, I appreciate your attention to my interpretation of luck & successful outcomes. Cheers !!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What if LUCK runs out? (Part 1)

February 2014, I met with an accident while driving back from work. It was around 21:30, when a truck hit my car. It crushed driving side door, bending it inwards. I had shift towards center of the car to avoid getting hit by the bending door. Seems very scary? It was. I was totally unharmed barring the mental trauma I went through that night. Interesting fact of the accident: Both vehicles, my car & the truck which hit me, were stuck in traffic with little or no room to move. Both of us tried to move ahead with limited space and I was caught between stand still traffic & this monster truck which did not see my car.

Being a senior manager at a big corporate, I have a habit of advising people to get to the root cause and try to control things that fall under their circle of control or influence. I thought; why not apply the same principle to this accident and figure out what went wrong. What can I do in future to avoid it? After much “due diligence”, I concluded to drive more carefully and leave rest to my luck.

Few months later, morning of 7th July 22, 2014, I was driving towards my office… Normal speed on relatively empty road, enjoying good music, accompanied by Amrita, everything “as usual”. I started slowing down my car as we were approaching a diversion. Just as my car came to halt to turn, I heard “BAM”… and it wasn't a sweet sound. A taxi rammed into us from behind. Driver’s excuse; I tried to apply brakes but the car did not stop in time. Amrita & I stood stunned; moment of silence was followed by an argument, which isn't relevant for this topic, so let’s move ahead. Yet again, my thinking cap was on. What went wrong this time? Was I driving too fast? No. Was I in wrong lane? No. Did I stop too suddenly? No. This time, after much detailed “due diligence” & “root cause analysis”, I blamed everything on my luck.

Week later, I was happy that my car was back from service center. They repaired everything which was damaged plus couple of things which were not broken but were old. I was prompt in passing on good feedback for my claim executive.  14th July 22, 2014, on my way back from work, it happened again. You must be laughing, but believe me, this incidence shook my confidence. There was heavy traffic; vehicles were barely moving, when a SUV hit my car. Why? Driver accidentally released brakes. This time, I had no energy to argue, I kept driving.

Over ten years of driving experience, never drove at high speeds, always cared about slow moving vehicles or pedestrians. Why was my car hit thrice in the same area within few months? I don’t know. Most of my well-wishers advised me to get divine blessing. Start visiting temple, focus on Gods with special powers, hang some stuff in your car to keep evil away, were some of them. None of them sounded logical but were the only options available, so I agreed to one of them.

I kept thinking about these accidents over the weekend. Is there anything I could do to avoid such thing in future? While contemplating about the reasons of these accidents, I wondered; what if I get stuck in a similar situation at my work? What if I cannot figure out reasons behind a problem? How would I be able to correct my action if I don’t know the real issue? Can I blame everything on luck if nothing works out?
During my 13+ years of professional journey, lot of people told me I was “lucky”. I was told my success is a result of my good luck. I would often have people complain about their bad luck and how things never work out for them. These comments lead me to find more about how few people have good luck and others don’t. 

I stumbled upon an article in 2012 which explains why some people seem to have all the luck. This article referred to the research done by Richard Wiseman. Richard is professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. Richard interviewed several people who considered themselves very lucky or very unlucky. The results reveal that although these people had almost no insight into the cause of their luck, their thoughts & behavior are responsible for much of their fortune. After several experiments & interviews, Richard claimed to have found the elusive “luck factors”.  1) Listen to your gut instincts – they are normally right. 2) Be open to new experiences and breaking your normal routine. 3) Spend a few moments each day remembering things that went well. 4) Visualize yourself being lucky before importance meeting or call.

I like Richard’s recommendations. I did apply some of his suggestions. I find them logical; in fact, I felt I have been practicing couple of them even before I read this article. So, what if you do everything advised by Richard and you still don’t get the desired outcome? This question haunted me for a while. How do I deal with failures in situation where I thought I had enough confidence, enough experience & executed the task with full conviction? Like in the case of my accidents.

My curiosities lead me to another book; "The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing" by Michael Mauboussin. I feel Michael untangles several layers of skill & luck, which eventually helps your decision making process. I made an attempt to connect some of his research with current business realities to develop my own simplistic way of explaining factors which contribute or influence outcomes.

More to come....