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BW Businessworld

The Right Approach

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They have been successful in getting the opportunities they have because of their self-belief, because they have learnt to flaunt their strengths and aggressively push their own brand. Their professional lives today prove the age old Pavlovian experiments on ‘operant conditioning’ — one’s actions and behaviour get you success, you will learn to keep repeating them in search for more. They have grown up hearing, ‘You are so capable and you will win in life’ from family, teachers and others around them. Ironically, these are the same beliefs that will impact their ability to learn and work with others, which are essential for their success in the future. What most YMs tend not to realise is: what helped them do well on campus may be necessary, but not sufficient to help them succeed in the hugely different context of the organisations.

The face of India has changed with dramatic economic growth. We are brimming with confidence and pride in ourselves as Indians. The inevitable shortage of skilled staff has forced companies to vie with each other for recruiting what is available, thus fuelling the confidence in people. What they may not be cognizant of is that in the interest of keeping the growth momentum, companies are sometimes compromising on standards of professional excellence in the hope that ‘gaps’ can be made up by appropriate training and development actions. The fallout is significant collateral damage, and in this context the damage is to our humility as individuals and probably, as a nation.

The transition, from a largely individual contributor at school level and at the start of one’s career, to delivering in teams, is a difficult one. Every organisation, by one name or another, aspires for its people to build competence in interpersonal effectiveness and the ability to deliver the collective goal of their teams or organisation. Much has been written about emotional intelligence and how important it is for this kind of success at work. Empathy, one of the bedrocks of emotional intelligence, is the ability to make a connection, to attune to a wide range of emotional signals, to listen well and understand others’ perspectives. None of this is actively covered in our education.

The first challenge for YMs is to realise the need to connect with others. “I am overloaded. I have no time to waste. why should I make small talk with people?” — are common refrains in organisations. The mind is always in a hurry and focused on achieving short-term objectives. So in the case, the young lady manager probably wasted no time or even thought about asking Willy, ‘why there was no change’ before proceeding to express her anger. This particular episode may not impact the lady’s performance, but when repeated in other circumstances, will begin to affect her contribution.

The second is to develop skills to ask questions, listen with respect, to think before speaking and to express gratitude. Easier said than done in this busy world and in a society that is losing its focus on respect for age, experience and knowledge. These are simple skills that come from a genuine concern for others and putting them to practice. For a generation that is so focused on success, equally important is the need for the organisation to strongly signal that these skills are valued. Several progressive organisations today are taking to the 360 degree feedback as an important source in this regard. Asking a diverse set of colleagues for anonymous feedback on how individuals are perceived on aspects such as working with others, learning from mistakes and respect for others is a great way of capturing what is mostly unsaid to people. If Puneet were to see a report that has a few people telling him that he needs to stop being irresponsible and arrogant, it is bound to make him pause and reflect. His conversation with Meenaxi then is likely to be more open than if it is her view versus his.

The question also is, why did Willy and others quietly accept the impoliteness and why does Karan Rao have to think twice about sending the reprimand mail? What is happening in the case is fairly representative of what happens in organisations — there are too many of these conversations happening about people in their absence rather than with them. Imagine what a powerful message it would be for all if Willy were to do a ‘then and there’ display of the right behaviour — feedback for the individual without losing his cool. The world is changing for everyone, YM or SM and both need to adapt and learn to be more effective. This is certainly one place where the senior generation should copy the YM style of on-the-spot, here-and-now feedback and say exactly what they feel.

After all, what got you here won’t get you there.

Archana Bhaskar is an HR professional who has worked for years in India and Europe. Currently she is the Hr head for Shell companies in India

(Businessworld Issue Dated 10-16 March 2009)

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