Friday, September 07, 2007

"Experience" in Indian IT industry

Someone said that "experience is a comb that nature gives to us when we become bald". This quote automatically becomes true for a FEW of the middle managers/senior managers in Indian IT industry.

Every manager/leader in the Indian IT industry need to spend time on talent acquisition as that is the primary driver for this people driven industry- That is the core for delivering software projects. Given this backdrop, I spend almost 30% of my time on talent acquisition meeting a wide variety of "experienced" knowledge workers/managers!

In a week, I spend time on meeting atleast 4-5 senior people who are either shortlisted or come for the first round. Usually I learn a lot during those interviews and I am always very OPEN for a discussion as I strongly believe that interviews are an equal footing forums! I have had my best debates with some of the best people whereby we both get enlightened on some of the traditional stuff and ofcourse I love that! There have been very RARE occasions whereby flukes come in and it becomes hilarious to write a blog on them! This is one such occasion whereby I was really tempted to pen down my conversation!

So I happened to meet one of the so called highly "experienced" general manager- He had 18 years of experience in the IT industry. His resume was flawless except for his track record as in his 18 years he has JUST jumped over 13 companies! When I reviewed his resume, his track record completely struck me - I mean how can a person in a senior position do this? Nevertheless I was very OPEN and asked him to explain on this?

Let me change this in a dialogue fashion:

I : Your track record seems to show disturbing trend and in senior roles you have never stayed beyond a year? Why is that? Could you please explain?
18 years general manager- Prospective Candidate (PE): Oh that’s not a big deal! I was always head hunted from day one! Since it’s a capitalistic market, I always got an opportunity to move on and see different companies which actually helped me to learn a lot!

I: What can you really learn if you have moved on every 9-12 months?
PE: Well! That’s always the challenge. I was fortunate enough to do something within a short timeframe and complete my tasks and take new tasks in new companies.

By this time I realized that there is no point in getting in depth with this point. I decided to move on!

I: You have mentioned in your resume in one of your roles that living in India was one of your achievements? Does that sound illogical?
PE: Its great that you caught it because I thought about this when I wrote the resume. Its basically a role whereby I was expected to do sales and marketing for US but I practically ended up doing the same job in India.

I: How is that considered as an achievement?
PE: Hmmm… deep pause…basically I was good at sales in India itself which my bosses did not know and then they retained me here rather than relocating me to US.

They seemed to be wise- I kept this thought to myself. Okay- again no point in digging this deep! Lets move on was my approach!

Suddenly the PE was proactive- He started off this time!!

PE: Since I have 18 years of experience I know the IT industry landscape and the metrics and everything. So I can really contribute at the executive management level leave alone senior management!

To myself, I started thinking- How can people dig their own hole?

I: Well that’s interesting- What is the average net margin in the Indian IT industry?
PE: That’s 40% (his tone was super confident)

I: Aha- so whats gross margin?
PE: Well both are same. Its 40%- I know this very well.

I: Hmmm. Okay! Hypothetically speaking if your topline is 100 crore and your bottomline is 50 crores- What is your margin? Is that NET or GROSS?
PE: That’s really complicated! Can you repeat this question?

I am like- Dude- You do not know what you are talking about? Get your basics right and then we will talk but you don’t know anything?

Immediately the PE said that he missed out CMMi implementation which was another one of his achievement.

I: Okay (with depression). Which level were you implementing? Level 5?
PE: It is Level 3. Only when you implement Level 3 you can go to Level 5.

I: Okay. How many KPAs are there in Level 3 since you were leading the effort?
PE: There are so many KPA’s in general. We have to take the relevant ones and just implement it. This is a very easy process.

This was the point that brought the end of the discussion! Period!

I was polite to him and said that we will get back shortly! Frankly I felt really sad because of the state of affairs! I had nothing to comment on as some Project Managers come in with the same degree of knowledge sometimes except for the fact that they don’t know how to do an MPP!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Alexander's Three Wishes

I received this in a simple email forward from one of my friends Vijay based out of Pune. It was so thought provoking that I felt like publishing in the blog.

Here is very instructive incident involving the life of Alexander, the great Greek king.

Alexander, after conquering many kingdoms, was returning home.On the way, he fell ill and it took him to his death bed. With death staring him in his face, Alexander realized how his conquests, his great army, his sharp sword and all his wealth were of no consequence.

He now longed to reach home to see his mother's face and bid her his last adieu. But, he had to accept the fact that his sinking health would not permit Him to reach his distant homeland.

So, the mighty conqueror lay prostrate and pale, helplessly waiting to breathe his last.

He called his generals and said, 'I will depart from this world soon, I have three wishes, please carry them out without fail.'

With tears flowing down Their cheeks, the generals agreed to abide by their king's last wishes.

'My first desire is that,' said Alexander, 'My physicians alone must carry my coffin.'

After a pause, he continued, 'Secondly, I desire that when my coffin is being carried to the grave, the path leading to the graveyard be strewn with gold, silver and precious stones which I have collected in my treasury.'

The king felt exhausted after saying this. He took a minute's rest and continued.

'My third and last wish is that both my hands be kept dangling out of my coffin.'

The people who had gathered there wondered at the king's strange wishes. But no one dare bring the question to their lips.

Alexander's favorite general kissed his hand and pressed them to his heart. 'O king, we assure you that your wishes will all be fulfilled. But tell us 'why do you make such strange wishes?'

At this Alexander took a deep breath and said: 'I would like the world to know of the three lessons I have just learnt.

I want my physicians to carry my coffin because people should realize that no doctor can really cure any body. They are powerless and cannot save a person from the clutches of death. So let not people take life for granted.

The second wish of strewing gold, silver and other riches on the way to the graveyard is to tell People that not even a fraction of gold will come with me.

I spent all my life earning riches but cannot take anything with me. Let people realize that it is a sheer waste of time to chase wealth.

And about my third wish of having my hands dangling out of the coffin,

I wish people to know that I came empty handed into this world and
empty handed I go out of this world.'

With these words, the king closed his eyes. Soon he let death conquer him and breathed his last.

Have a Blessed Day !!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Blame Game- Top Management is always the enemy!

Everytime as middle managers we wear multiple hats viz., handling customers, handling subordinates, streamlining processes, handling bosses and handling super bosses!! The whole idea of this blog stems from the fact that at some point of time managers would be frustrated at the whole idea of executive management(corporate) giving them some directions that are totally tangential to what they do on a daily basis. Managers also feel that executive management has got no clue on the practical implementation angle and they just make all decisions top-down. They feel that corporate does not understand the daily challenges that they face and corporate feels that managers need to be guided all the time. There is definitely some wisdom here looking at both angles and this is the first step when a manager transforms himself to become a leader!

Corporate is not the enemy even though it can too often seem that way with unreasonable demands or out-of-touch expectations. It's just that corporate has a job to do, and sometimes it actually knows some things that managers don't know. Corporate is not trying to micromanage but trying to balance middle management needs with the needs of other parts of the organization! Naturally it's trying to manage short-term results and long-term investments. It's trying to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts, a worthy cause underneath it all. This perspective usually gets lost with the middle management in both ways- Either the middle management thinks that the corporate is the enemy or they think they just need to listen to what corporate states and do exactly what they are told to do. Obviously both these states are detrimental to the growth of the organization and the growth of the management team!

I have seen a lot of middle managers complain that the corporate has got no perspective on the day to day realities and I do empathize with them for sure. For example: We are currently being audited for KPMG on CMMi and ofcourse the corporate goal is to have all project managers follow processes for all customers. But project managers face the challenge of implementing this with a customer who does not give a damn about processes!! This is a case in point whereby the project managers will be pulled by the corporate for non-implementation. There are many ways to solve this problem but blaming the corporate for pulling on this is not going to solve the problem!.

But even if the corporate's intentions are good- beware! You as a leader must relentlessly shield your team from its interference. To do otherwise is a fast track to losing your team's confidence and respect. Every time you groan that "Executive Officer A says that we need to have 100% billing for this customer" or complain that "Executive Officer B is forcing me to get rid of person Z because he's so bad at his customer presentation/packaging skills and attitude", you make yourself look like a puppet whose strings are being pulled by the corporate. In fact, you actually make yourself a puppet. It is very easy for managers to look at their team and scream about the corporate; And this is exactly what they should NOT do. Ever, ever, ever. That's a total career suicide for the manager and not much better for the team. Very soon, instead of looking to you for direction, your people will be looking around you, searching for signs from the "real boss".

It really happened with me once whereby I was reviewing the resource utilization with my business manager and as usual I asked him to reallocate 4 resources to another new project as the current project was coming to close. Immediately the business manager agreed for the same as he felt that he was just obeying corporate's instructions!! Unfortunately the current project that is coming to close can be extended through a maintenance contract with the same team and there is a potential repeat business because of the same team. Ideally this perspective should have been given by the business manager; instead of that the reallocation just happened because the corporate asked for it. Tomorrow if there is a question on the repeat business it will be easy to wash the hands and say, "hey they asked for it and they got it".

As a manager you should never even give a perception to your team members that you cannot fight for them! Once you give that perception it is very easy for the team to observe and understand the dynamics. As I always say, "everyone observes you while you are at work" and there is no hiding from the fact that your team always evaluates you every second. So any complaining like this will immediately change their perception of you as a leader!

The perspective on this very simple- Sometimes there are optimal/rational decisions imposed to the management team and sometimes there are sub-optimal/irrational decisions imposed to the management team! The key is to find the balance in these decisions and create your own communication plan that can address and align both the interests!

It is very common to have corporate interfere with your team thereby giving a perception to middle management that they are micro-managing, hurting speed and morale etc. Obviously the suggestion is to not become a corporate apologist, trying to sell every edict to your people as if it were ice cream. By all means, push back hard on behalf of your business. Challenge nonsense expectations. Negotiate for resources. But keep that process behind closed doors, and when it is over, whether you have made gains or not, own corporate's final decision as your own. Take it to your people as your plan.

Remember Executive Officer A's idea of having 100% billing with a particular customer? Say he won't budge, even after you've made the case that it's stupid in your business high-demand environment. At that point, you need to buck up and move on. Get with your team and figure out a way to deliver the plan of having 100% billable resources by creating a bench that can take care of transitions/replacements!

As for poor resource Z, whom executive officer B wants fired- that's another case for the middle managers to own. If resouce Z is a solid contributor, instead of pulling the trigger while blaming executive officer B, quietly work your tail off to improve his packaging skills and attitude. In other words, make it your job to manage the interface between corporate and your team. And when corporate makes that interface thorny, don't share your pain- absorb it. If that sounds a bit unnatural, that's because it is. It is perfectly human for managers to want to blame "up there" for how hard it is "down here". But real leaders can't do that. And they don't.

Prakash Gurumoorthy

PS: I have taken some ideas from an interview of Jack Welch to write this blog as I felt this is appropriate for any middle managers!