Thursday, July 30, 2009

Guest post: Frisk Free!

Author: Narayanan Viswanathan

Narayanan's back to write another excellent article. You can read his earlier post here. This time around his focus is on..well, read to find out more...

The serious indictment for organizations across the globe is now on providing safer work environments, by insulating the associates from external threats, besides having internal security mechanisms that would help alleviate potential threats to business continuity due to external malicious acts. All leading multi-national companies are implementing critical and important ‘first-in-line’ policies towards internal security, to ensure safety of their data, business processes, fixed assets and employees.

The information security as a process has been constantly evolving ever since the advent of the IT industry. However, we are not only talking about information security here. In recent times, the importance of physical security to be airtight has assumed equal importance if not greater, in the wake of the threat posed by global terrorism – from Manchester to Mumbai. Today’s professionals are exposed to potentially perilous situations and the term Job Security, will now have a new meaning. The term Workplace Hazard normally associated only with blue collared workers will henceforth be applicable to white collared professionals too – only that the context in which they are placed into perspective would vary. The serious indictment for organizations is now on providing safer work environments, by insulating the associates from such external threats and also in having internal security mechanisms that would help alleviate potential threats to business continuity due to external malicious acts. The business entities therefore, are focusing their attention on information and physical security policies as much as strategic business plans, financial management, or human capital management.

Most companies seem to have a formal security policy in place; but very few enforce them in entirety. However, a generic analysis of some of the initiatives taken by the business entities off late, in ensuring internal security, goes to prove that they want to leave no stones unturned. This will potentially transform the way businesses would operate – in effect, necessitating a full-fledged change management to enable this transition at the grass-root level. In these circumstances, as an individual, I ask myself;

· Who will be responsible for internal security? Let’s look at the answer options – Management, GIS Team, Security Personnel, Every associate in the organization…
· What are the implications of implementing vs. not implementing a stringent security system? Here, as I think through, the answer options can be as humongous as grains of sand on the beach or as small as I would like it to be…
· How much of my personal space am I willing to give up, in order to feel more secure? The options here seem to be dichotomous, Am I convenient or Am I secure…

I will try to zero-in on the final answers based on analogies. Let’s say I walk into the office tomorrow, and I have a security personnel, whom I would rudely pass-off every day as someone who didn’t do well in his school days and is therefore on the other side of the table, frisking me or peering into ‘my’ belongings; and also commanding me to show my ID Card, as proof of my association with the organization. Well, I might give him a look of displeasure and repugnance. I might even consider telling him, “Do you know who I am?” I might deem the whole process as irrelevant, as a nuisance and a potential waste of my executive time. I might feel livid that I am made to wait longer than I would ideally like to, at the entrance; as unwarranted barricade before I can move into my coveted workstation, to dole out all the game changing solutions that will benefit my organization.

However, isn’t it only fair that I give myself a chance to think, that the robustness of the security process will potentially provide me a good sense of safety, and in effect enable me to concentrate on what I need to do, than what will happen to me while I am on it? Come to think of it, as is the case with life itself, everything is a trade-off, but here, it is a good trade-off to make. The question that I will need to answer may be, am I convenient or am I secure… it is less likely that it can be both – but we can strike a balance.

It might be expensive and inconvenient to implement a security policy but it would be costlier, if it isn't implemented. A comparable metaphor could be that of a 9-10-Jack in the cricket team, the wallies of the willow, going out to bat in the middle, wearing every possible protective gear available. Of all you know, Jack might get a perfect Yorker in the very first-ball, uprooting all three stumps. Now, that would make one question whether it was worth the while, for him to wear all the protective gear. Let’s say Jack was disinclined to wear a helmet, and the first ball was a bouncer – won’t we have a situation here? In effect, it’s more like “trust in god, but lock your car”.

The moral of the story, is that internal security is everybody’s responsibility. It starts from the proclivity of the top-management in emphasizing on the need for implementing information and physical security, by defining key policies and processes. It ends with the concerned individuals vested with the responsibility of enforcing these policies and processes. The vital missing-link here will be ‘you and I’ – we need to be able adjust to the renewed need of the hour and cooperate whole-heartedly in the implementation of the internal security policies.

The next time I come across a nonchalant security personnel, unequivocally examining the rear of my Car or peering into my lunch bag, at the end of the search I would probably tell him… “Thanks mate. Since you are here, I shall now go to my workstation worry-free”

About the Author:
Narayanan Viswanathan, is a certified Global Professional in Human Resource Management (GPHR) with over 10 years of progressively responsible hands-on experience in the entire gamut of HR functions; with functional specialization in Talent Management & Talent Engagement. Currently, he is part of a 6-member HR Centre of Excellence (COE) team, at Cognizant, which is the strategic wing of corporate human resources, that manages the cross-geographical implementation of Balance Score Card, Performance Management, Career Development and Career Progression initiatives. He is also a Six Sigma Green Belt certified professional.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reneges: Just who is your candidate listening to?

A recruiter asks: (maybe applicable to hiring managers too)

“What can we do to increase our chances of converting candidates who accept our offer to join us?”
(Note: He was referring to candidates who renege on their commitment to join, post offer acceptance.)

I’ve been in recruitment for a long time now. Personally, I don’t like candidates who renege on their offer acceptance (another dislike I’d written about
here). Sorry for the rant!

First, I’ll digress a little before giving him the actual answer. Noticed something? When it comes to getting information about any product or service, we are just spoiled for options. Really. It’s also called information overdose. It’s so easy to get information from the numerous search engines, networking sites, blogs or even reviews. But what we must understand is that every source has its own analysis of the product or service. You agree? Hidden among so many different sources, is the one official source that belongs to the person/Company rendering the service or selling the product. But how much do they matter when we get to read end-user reviews? Isn’t that the most helpful or even useful source (to an extent)?

So, if the above situation does exist. It leads me to asking folks involved in the hiring process, “Who is your candidate listening to?”

Think about it, you’ve spent considerable amount of time, cost and efforts to identify a good candidate. It’s a role that a lot of other candidates interviewed for but didn’t make the cut. Good job. But you work’s only half done. Really. While you are sitting pretty satisfied with your hiring efforts and even start making project plans for the new hire, he is talking to others about the role he has just bagged in your Company. That’s when the discussions take a different turn. He realizes that his close friend’s brother works at your Company and contacts him to find out more about the Company. That’s just one of his sources. There may be a hundred others. He is suddenly open to so many opinions and suggestions (off course, we can argue about his choices, but they are his sources) and he is making a decision based on things that he might hear or get to know from one of them. These sources will give out information on a ton of things including culture, managers, peers, compensation structure, benefits, etc., It’s their point of view. And your candidate might buy it.

So that’s where you can play a critical role. The immediate few days after a candidate accepts an offer is a crucial period. Those days will determine whether your hiring efforts will pay off or not. You could help the candidate take a better informed decision. One that is factual and hopefully unbiased.

Second, the reneges could happen for completely valid reasons. Some that just cannot be avoided. Yes, there are enough of them. But if you keep your post-offer interactions active, you’ll atleast get some heads-up on time. It'll help you come up with Plan B a lot faster. That’s better than getting to know of the offer decline closer to the candidate’s joining date.

Third, you might want to reconsider your interview techniques. Agreed that interviews aren’t 100% fool-proof, but then tweaking/changing your interview structure might help you come up with some questions that will help you understand the candidates needs better.

Some earlier posts that might be of help:
Do you keep interactions active after a job offer is made?
X-Factor: "Recruiter Sales"

Hope things better for you. Good luck!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lessons from a leader

Got to see this when I read Tony Hsieh's (CEO tweet about a letter he had shared with his employees, regarding Zappos' deal with

Although I was following the deal closely, this particular video of Jeff Bezos caught my rapt attention! A message so simple, yet so strong. I assure you, it's worth the eight minutes spent listening to him. Go ahead, click the 'Play' button....and let me know your thoughts.

By the way, I don't get a single dime or discount at for playing this video. Just in case, you thought that I'll make a killing!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Carnival of HR!

Mick Collins at Infohrm is hosting the July edition of the Carnival of HR. I would suggest you head over there to read some good informative posts. Check it out! It would be worth your time spent. Don't forget to leave your comments on posts that you find interesting.

PS: The 'Carnival of HR' was started by the Evil HR Lady way back in 2007 and since then it has been regularly featuring recent posts from the best of the HR and management blogging community. Get to know more about the Carnival here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sometimes...’s best to state the obvious! Just like this message board placed by the traffic police. It’s a ‘Message v/s Intent’ dilemma. Interesting.

Any thoughts?

PS: The message in the native language is the correct one. Although I wonder why is the traffic police ‘requesting' motorists NOT to drive on the pedestrian walkway?!? Beats me. I would rather have them impound the motorist’s license for driving everywhere but on the road! Right?

Monday, July 20, 2009

What would you do?

………when someone asks you a query?

This post is an after-effect of my interactions with my current cellular network provider. All I wanted to do was get a cell number transferred from my previous employer to my name. The only problem in this case, is that the previous Company I worked for, no longer exists (they got acquired sometime back). And somehow forgot to transfer the cell-number back to my name. So I either transfer it to my name or stand to lose a number I’ve been using for the last eight years! I would rather choose the former option, given that far too many people need to be informed if I change the number. This option saves a lot of inconvenience too. Ok, that’s the context.

Now, the reps at the counter were clueless on the process to transfer the number to my name, under the given situation. They seemed lost. So, they just told me: “We wouldn’t be able to transfer the number to your name.” What?!? They said that because they did not know what to do!!! However, my perseverance eventually paid off! After interactions with over fifteen different people, one manager knew about the process to get the job done!! Apparently a company wide email was circulated and no one but this manager had paid attention to it. So the others ended up clueless…and they continued to work that way.

Yes, there’s a possibility that it could have been a case of bad/non-existing organizational training on processes. But could the reps have done a better job? Off course they could have. Here’s how & I did explain it to a senior manager who strongly agreed:

Scenario #1: Someone asks you a query. You know the answer to that. You tell them what is to be done. Case closed. Customer’s happy with the resolution. You get a good service rating.

Scenario #2: You have no clue on what is to be done? What next? Simple. You either tell the customer you’ll check and get back with a resolution within a certain timeframe (and you should get back). Or pick the phone and call your lead or manager and get to know the process. If they don’t know, call another manager. Or raise an internal helpdesk ticket. Or send a mail to your resolutions department. Sounds simple right? But somehow none of these options got executed. You have an angry customer at the counter. And your service rating plummeted.

This is a classic situation that happens so very frequently in HR. There are far too many processes and policies to remember right away. Or there’s no process in place at all. But what are we doing about those requests? Many would ignore it, thinking it will get routed to another HR rep. The chain continues, until one of them takes the effort to find out and reply to the query. The rep that gave the reply definitely deserves a pat on the back, for going beyond his scope of work to get the job done. The others have fallen way behind on the learning curve.

You agree?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Guest Post: From my wife!


A non-hr person blogging about HR practices! The human resource professional who runs this blog thinks it would be a great idea to see HR from a different angle, an angle that would be more cynical, ready to find fault & more commonly called, The HR Store's wife!

Well, get ready for a whirlwind cynical side. I’ve worked in 3 companies – 1 Start-up, 1 mid-scale company and 1 big conglomerate. I will try to talk about my experiences in each of these companies and more importantly, my interaction with HR there.

I work for a humongous corporation now with over 75000 employees all over the world. Nothing works beyond process & policies and off course your HR rep. I always thought I would be the one to rebel against this kind of a company, but I find a weird sort of security where I know I cannot be screwed over by a mean boss or the blue-eyed boy of the boss or the curvaceous colleague (all have happened, I swear!) Everything at work is documented and no matter how many bosses change or how many projects you have been moved into, your past is always taken into accord, good or bad and that to me is very comforting. The HR rep here is very accommodating and she is even expected to respond to our emails in 24 hours (its a rule!!) Though they don’t really give us an answer that we want, it helps that we have an answer in a day's time. A lot of approvals are done by the HR and this helps that we don't have to get our silly transport, cafeteria, HR system issues, compensation clarity, across to our bosses who are really not interested. My only crib about the HR here is that they lack personality; they are cold, unemotional, efficient machines who eventually get the work done! Touch-time with employees is purely based on necessity.

Prior to this I worked for a start-up. This has to be the most horrible company ever in the history of mankind!! Really. It was run and worked on the whims and fancy of one man; the CTO cum IT Director cum Marketing Director cum Sales Director cum every other senior management role. The HR in this company was absolutely non-existent. This was because of the said manager, like I mentioned above. The HR director was above everyone and did not think he could stoop down to our level (employee level). The thing that most bugged me was, when I had to discuss salary issues, leave issues, medclaim issues; issues that should rightly have been handled by the HR or Finance personnel in the company, it was addressed by the above manager. It was hell and I was so grateful to have got out with my temper intact!!

Finally, the mid-scale company I worked for was comfortable. The projects that I was involved in were pretty ordinary, but my working relationship with my bosses and HR was fantastic! The gripe here is, the HR were constantly involved in extra-curricular activities, team building activities and everything else associated with ‘fun @ work’ theme. I am all for some fun @ work activities but when it happens about 4 times a month, it gets a little annoying and downright irritable when you have deadlines and releases to meet. And they expect you to participate (mandate) without any exceptions. And God forbid, had you ever participated in one of these events once, the HR personnel organizing the event would be all over you like an ant at a picnic. It would probably have helped if they had spent their time drafting some policies for leave, travel, re-location, regular FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) etc., because every time we approached them for issues relating to the above, they were all set to play Dumb Charades!!

Based on my experience, I felt that the management got it all wrong when hiring HR folks. There was always a feeling that the HR rep didn’t fit in with the business needs. Maybe that’s something companies can look deep into. After all, if HR reps are representing the business internally to employees, then wouldn’t it make sense to spend more time in getting the right candidate?

Thanks for reading the post and let me know what you think of it!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Co-worker takes credit for team's ideas!

“Recently at work, the team had discussions on topics related to a current project. As part of the discussions, each team member was supposed to present their ideas on ways to resolve certain project related issues. Since it wasn’t a formal meeting, the manager wasn’t involved. Neither was the meeting documented. One of the team member’s however had written down notes and then put together a presentation. The team didn’t know of the presentation and she didn’t share with us either. However, she went on to share it with both our manager and senior manager, claiming that the ideas presented were her own!! She had blatantly plagiarized/stolen ideas from us. So you can imagine how shocked we must have been when the manager sent the presentation to the entire team praising the team member. My question is: How do we go about telling the manager that the team member has taken credit for our ideas? Or should we stay off it and guard our discussions in future”

I agree it’s a terrible situation to be in. At the face of it, your team member’s acted like a jerk. Taking credit for someone else’s work is a strict workplace no-no. But there’s too much involved in this situation to give you a quick reply. So let me try to answer it in parts.

First, you say it was an informal meeting and hence the manager wasn’t there. So I presume it was a general discussion within the team and more of a collaborative discussion. One where ideas flow freely and people end up forgetting who gave which idea! Really. Unless the idea had an earth shattering impact and one that could change the course of our planet, stick to it, otherwise it’s ok to let go. It shouldn’t look like you are obstructing free flow of ideas/thoughts towards improving business or work. Next time you may want to show some restraint while talking about your ideas and yes, please document it in a formal meeting. If it has to stay an informal one, watch what you have to say. You could talk to your team member directly and resolve it without the manager’s involvement. Tell her that you found her tactic to be grossly wrong and the team’s not taken it well. Hopefully she’ll realize her mistake and apologize. Else, read on.

Second, your team member pulled a fast one and thinks she can get away with it. She thinks that way because she knows that most of the team will stay quiet and not blow the whistle. Remember there’s no documentation to prove that the idea originated from you. Right? The moment to blow the whistle has passed and anything you say now will look like doing damage control. She’s fully aware of that. Now you have to decide if you want to stand up or back-off. If you choose to stand up for your ideas, then your manager’s involvement looks imminent.

So how to get your message across to the manager? Since the manager wasn’t involved in your team discussion, she could be totally unaware of the origins of the ideas. She’s seen it for the first time and naturally she is thrilled with the effort of her team member. So you’ll need to build your discussion carefully. You don’t want to make it sound like a complaining session. Set-up a discussion with the manager and outline the details of the team’s informal discussion. Give some context to the origin of the ideas. Don’t make it a meeting to accuse the team member. But you would do well to speak of the impact this negative approach has had on yourself and the team too. Trust is a vital part of teamwork and quite sure that’s taken the maximum impact. You may want to highlight that. Also such negative tactics will build mistrust between team members and eventually will discourage them from talking more freely about their ideas. The manager needs to know that too. Hopefully your manager is a fair person and will see clearly through this issue.

Direct confrontation is uncomfortable for a lot of people. It requires courage to stand up and talk. But I urge you have that discussion with the manager, because if it goes unreported then the team member could repeat it again and again. That will only increase the team’s frustration, leading to low team morale and productivity too. Also, a lot of companies have innovation as a key trait in performance reviews and if it’s the same with your review, then you don’t want your efforts to go wasted. Would you? Or even get it stolen by another team member.

This is not a unique situation, it’s happens quite frequently. You can’t rule out chances of it not happening again. Maybe someone should just put their hand up and speak.

Any thoughts from the reader’s?

Friday, July 10, 2009

When a team member dislikes process!

Got this query from a manager.

“I work at a large multinational where process plays a vital role in getting things done on a daily basis. I manage a team of over 20 people and so process becomes even more critical for the team to perform as a cohesive unit. We recently hired a candidate from a start-up and are finding it difficult to get him to follow process. I understand that a start-up does give a lot of freedom at work, but our current set up does not allow for that kind of culture. I have tried to understand his need for freedom to a large extent and indeed have given him enough time to settle down. But now I’m finding it difficult to manage him. How do I get him to follow process?”

Well, it’s a typical case of a person who has moved from a start-up to a large organization. While your need for process is to ensure things are done in timely manner, that every process could be seen as a roadblock to creativity by the new hire! You mention that he is a new hire. So here’s a question that I have for you: Did you set the right expectations during the hiring process? The reason I ask is that most often managers feel that they have found the right candidate and end up promising the world to them. Just to get them onboard! It’s also one of the primary reasons that managers find it tough to manage new hires or even existing employees. They find it hard to balance between future promises and current reality.

If you believe that you’ve set the right expectations and have not made promises which you can’t keep (you shouldn't be making one!), then it’s time to sit-down and have that discussion with the new hire (let’s call him Joe). Yes, it’s good that you have understood Joe’s need for freedom, but that need for freedom shouldn’t affect the remaining people on the team. It’s something that can be avoided. Joe could just be resisting process because he has never tried or followed one till date. He could have been the only one working on a certain project. More like a one-person team. So I wouldn’t dismiss it off saying its dislike for process. It could just be a basic lack of understanding for the need to have one. As a manager, that understanding should come from you. So how do you do that? You could get him to do an activity in a way which he feels works best. While you want to ensure that you don’t belittle his efforts to get the desired outcome, you could define that same activity in a process oriented way. An approach that helps him save a lot of time & effort! It’s a lot easier to explain process while on the job.

Another common trait I’ve observed is that start-up guys tend to be very action-oriented. For them, results matter most and not really how they achieve it? They don’t have the liberty of time & money to sit down and analyze their approach. So projecting the process as a tool that would help to get things done, is another way of get his attention. He just needs to see results that come out from following process. All this is possible to a certain extent, after which process isn’t an option. He needs to believe that you have process to make life at work a lot simpler and also to improve performances. That’s not going to happen overnight. Have patience.

While you do talk to Joe, just ensure that you don’t kill his urge to question processes. He’s the kind of guy who’ll help you tweak that process, optimize it or even introduce new ones! Really. I’ve seen it happen. After all, process is one way to ensure there is some order to chaos! Nothing like getting one from a person known to have worked in an adhoc/chaotic workplace. Right?

Now, if you have not made the right choice in your hiring process. You are then trying your very best to fit
square pegs into round holes! Hope you are not in this category.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Guest Post: Striving for Continuous Improvement & Innovation

Author: Narayanan Viswanathan

Management guru, Tom Peters, stated: 'Get innovative or get dead'. One couldn’t be just as candid & relevant, all the same. ‘Find out what works & do more of it’ & ‘don’t fix it if it isn’t broken’, have been the most standardized management techniques used by some of the business entities, who either no longer exist today or are on their way out of business. It used to be thought that Innovation was what took place within R&D centres, propelled by the geeks hired specifically for the purpose, but this isn't the case today. The need to break the collusion of mediocrity, enable constant revitalisation & consequently maximise stakeholder value have forced organizations to recognize that innovation is paramount to all within the organization. It is evident that innovation is the way forward & innovators need both motivators & enablers. Hence, business entities encourage innovation across functions in the organization, rather than just within the specialist R&D units.

Innovation however, cannot be entirely engineered towards a desired outcome. It is a perpetual journey towards excellence, which could involve a process of trial & error. Take for example, the drug discovery process which has an average success rate of 17.54%; which means, statistically 21 out of every 25 processes are scraped. Out of the remaining 4, 2 fail to meet consistency & undesired effect tests, & out of the remaining 2, only 1 takes the shape of a medicine that is commercially marketed.

Innovation need not essentially refer to creation of something unique or grandiose. Take for example, NASA spending millions of dollars in sub-contracting costs to invent a Pen, that can write on any surface & in zero-gravity, that can be used by its Astronauts in outer-space; the Soviet’s instead, used a 9H grade Pencil which left residue less enough to be considered safe for use in space-station.

Innovation is also about identifying & leveraging on existing techniques; being applied on hitherto untapped area. For example, McDonalds’ adopted assembly line production technique, a process that revolutionized auto industry, for preparing fast-food – they called it the Speedee System. It improved their efficiency, wiped out carhops that were ubiquitous in the industry at the time, & set new standard for success in fast-food industry.

Innovation can be in every sphere of work across the functions in an organization. Take for example, Dell Direct model that stipulated a unique way of buying & selling. It starts & ends with the customers; provides them with customized systems, services & support; & also, enables Dell to manage the entire supply-chain with limited idle inventory. It not only set Dell apart, it also revolutionised the focus on customer experience, as an important differentiator, while also reducing direct costs.

More products & services have been created in the last century alone than the entirety of time before! All signs & trends only signal the possibility that the rate of innovation will only head northwards. The problem for many organizations is that they are not culturally equipped to deal with such rates of change. The fall of Ashton Tate Corp. (of DBase fame), the decline of International Harvester Co., the death of Walkman & Kodak films, are trite examples for lack of sustained development & innovation resulting in down-fall, while the advent of Internet, ATM, e-commerce & wireless communication are prominent examples of path-breaking inventions that revolutionized our times.

It’s important for organizations to constantly improve performances against key business processes through a deliberate Plan-Do-Learn-Repeat mechanism. It has been said before, but it is true nonetheless that innovative solutions help save millions of dollars that can be invested back into the customer relationships & employee development initiatives, that will have a direct bearing on both sustenance & growth of the business entity.

About the Author:
Narayanan Viswanathan, is a certified Global Professional in Human Resource Management (GPHR) with over 10 years of progressively responsible hands-on experience in the entire gamut of HR functions; with functional specialization in Talent Management & Talent Engagement. Currently, he is part of a 6-member HR Centre of Excellence (COE) team, at Cognizant, which is the strategic wing of corporate human resources, that manages the cross-geographical implementation of Balance Score Card, Performance Management, Career Development and Career Progression initiatives. He is also a Six Sigma Green Belt certified professional.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Team member who complains incessantly

A reader (manager to a group of 12 employees) sent a query asking: How to manage a team member who complains incessantly? Should he involve HR in resolving the issue?

So here’s my take on the subject. You don’t need to manage/tolerate his tantrums. Unless his complaints are for valid reasons and you are not seeing them as clearly as him. Really. Many of them may ask you to tolerate him and not respond/empathize with him and in due course he’ll leave you alone. Yes, he’ll leave you alone and will pick on someone else. He’ll not stop until he has griped about everything under the sun to everyone on the team. That’s something the team can live without. They have enough on their own plates to worry about. So avoiding the situation will only aggravate it to a large extent. Even to the point of your team lodging a formal complaint!

If you have reached a state where you are complaining about him, then I wonder how much the team has already gone through! Further, your team right now is not appreciative of the fact that you haven’t done anything as yet about the issue. You are their manager and they are expecting you to lead them out of this issue too.

First, set up a discussion with the employee, to sort things out. Yes, you are ready to listen, but only up to a point where his complaints make sense. No. You did not set up the discussion to hear him complain about the sun, stars, moon, pavements, bus, stairs or movies, among a thousand other things that might have no relation to your work activities. If it does (which I seriously doubt), you listen and act accordingly to resolve it. But I doubt if that would have been the case, else others would have had some opinions too. Right now, they are having an issue with him! It’s because they don’t think it’s worthy of spending their time. Your discussions as a manager should be towards identifying the factors that are causing the team member to act that way. Identify why is he complaining so often? Maybe he is just asking to be heard. It could either be that simple or complicated up to a point where he needs some professional help! You can decide further course of action based on your meeting. Why have you waited so long to talk to him? I wonder. Sorry, I digress.

But it’s hard to explain things without data points. Don’t make your discussions seem vague. Without factual data it will sound more like an accusation/allegation. It will backfire. On the other hand, don’t line up a hundred situations where he displayed such behavior and spend time investigating. It will seem like finger pointing. It might send him towards extreme behavior. He could end up a bigger jerk. Use the data points to tell him where you felt he could have done without complaining. Give him the confidence to come straight to you, if he does have genuine complain. But you need to tell him, that his current behavior/attitude is hurting the team and his standing among team members. It could end up hurting team morale, balance or even productivity. It’s like the case of the person who cried wolves too many times. No one will take him seriously even if he has a real reason to complain!

Should you involve HR? Maybe not until you’ve had your first discussion. If the problem persists, then rope in HR for future discussions. HR may not have a policy that tells you how to handle such team members. They will help you understand the situation from a third person’s perspective and take fair decisions. The end result, however, will be based on your call. You don’t want to sound like you went complaining to HR about him! You are the manager and you need to have that tough discussion with him. Yes, you need HR’s help when he doesn’t get the message.

In case you have tried your best to resolve the issue in a professional manner, but find that nothing much has changed. That’s when you ask, do you really want such a person on your team?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Boss won't let me take on more work

This came from a reader in the information technology space:

“I was recently hired for a role which requires me to manage activities at the product architecture level. It’s been a couple of months now and I’m yet to get into anything substantial. The very reason the company hired me was because I matched their job requirement completely and if hired I could hit the ground running. However, my boss doesn’t seem to be in a hurry! The others in the team (with much lesser work experience than me) are currently doing higher level work! I haven’t spoken to my boss yet thinking he’ll delegate work soon, but that hasn’t happened. Any suggestion on how to manage this situation? I don’t want come across as pushy, while at the same time I do want to get assigned to a project and get started with the real work.”

First, I assume that your current boss was indeed on the interview panel that selected you and he did interview you for the role (if not, I'll come to that point later). If he was on panel; then go right ahead and talk to him about assigning you work that you were hired to do. Why have you waited for two months to talk to him?!?! Quite sure it would have been considered being ‘pushy’ if you had asked within the first couple of weeks. Common practice is to give new hires about thirty days to settle down into the team, work, culture, etc. So yes, talk to him. But when you do have the discussion, show some tact, you don’t want to tell him that the current work is below par for your experience. You would be better off to tell him that while you are working on the current assignment, you have done the necessary ground work (only if that’s true) and you are ready to take on more work. Your discussion should aim at giving him the confidence that you have settled down well into your role and ready for the grind. Listen to him with patience and understand his concerns (if any). But do communicate your stand too. I doubt his concerns would be around your capability; else he wouldn’t have hired you in the first place! Right? It could at times be with change in project plans and he could be waiting for approval to start off. It’ll all be assumptions, until you talk and find out the actual reason. There’s no reason I can see that should stop you from talking to him.

Second, it gets slightly complicated if your current manager wasn’t involved in the hiring process. Really. It’s a possibility. I’ve come across situations where managers have hired for teams they don’t manage. Reasons could vary from setting up a team bottom-up (hire the team members & then hire a new manager for that team), the team’s manager had quit recently and hence the guy you interviewed with is just an interim manager. There are so many other reasons that come to mind. If you fall under any of these categories, then your current manager is: (a) struggling to allot/delegate work since he was only asked to select the right candidate and doesn’t know much about the plans, (b) He has allotted the current work to test waters, before assigning actual work. It’s weird. But I’ve seen that happen too, (c) He doesn’t want to mess around with the existing team’s momentum (it's not his yet), (d) He is waiting for someone to take over the team or to get more clarity from the management, (e) He is a new hire too and is taking time to plan team activities and roles that each team member would play. It could be any of these scenarios (or more) that he has to resolve. If you are stuck here, you should still talk to your manager. Understand the current situation and his plans for you in the team.

You must have noticed. The key thing is to communicate. It’s obvious. Right? Don’t go with assumptions, they’ll only hamper your chances of coomunicating clearly and also in understanding the situation at hand.

Hope you get allotted work soon and good luck with your job!

PS: Most important, don't jump to conclusions (without talking) that you are at the wrong place! That's a path you don't want to follow.