Art of executing well

Actions measured/rated for ‘Outcomes’ are at best tasks. This was my underlying thought in response to my wife’s query on how can kids deal with stress during exams. In my personal life, I am known to be fixated in my thoughts, deliberative and contemplative. This is what my spouse thinks about me and she is right.

When I introspected further, I realised that I am an ‘outcome’ focused as well. For instance, brushing and taking a bath is a task for me. Diving further, into my contemplative-mind, I could relate how exercising is a task for me and hence easily built into my daily routine. Over the years, writing a few sentences in my personal diary is also a task.

Anything that does not need much forethought is a task for me. Quite rightly, Daniel Kahneman talks about ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’. We can be productive if most of our decisions shift to ‘System 1’ of our brains. Daniel lists quick/fast as a trait of using System 1.

Last week, my boss was upset when his marketing executive replied that she was working on social media strategy. He was upset with the use of ‘strategy’. He would have been delighted if she instead, shared the list of tasks she completed. My approach at work is same. When the purpose is clear, there cannot be anything else to think except to execute well, using ‘System 1 and making it happen.

Next steps with Data Visualization skills

I have been spending a lot of time watching videos and Ted talks on ‘data visualization’.
The constraint of not trying anything new – except a few mountains with sun shining above and a stream flowing from within the mountains towards plains; max a boat could be added with a few birds in flight- in ‘drawing’ as a subject in my childhood reflects on my poor visualization skills. 

I was getting carried away by a thought- if I have a good data visualization software, I can do a great job at visualization. This was true till today morning when after watching a Ted talk on data visualization, I decided to instead focus on data sets that I intend to collect and then try understanding it better. Representing them using a software comes later.

So start with I intend to capture the word count of my blog posts since 2006. And then may be use of some positive or negative adjectives. 

Now, I believe having a story to share and share it sooner.

‘Free’ @Work

Busy like a bee’, I was trying my best to find solutions to problems that if implemented well could have resulted in a measurable impact.
I am talking about my last decade at work. I was drawing comfort from being busy. Somewhere in the whole process of execution missed the ‘output’. An output that is measurable, significant and will last forever.

I realized that I was busy because I was doing so many different things at the same time. I was swinging between tasks of interviewing, financial management, reporting and replying to random calls from my boss. I was missing the focus on what I should be doing and what I should not. Given the quantum and diverse nature of tasks, there was very little I could delegate.

Then a realization crept in. I was taking comfort in accomplishing tasks, including very tactical ones that demanded more time. Could I consider delegation some with focus limited to following up on progress? Could I be a little better at prioritizing the ones that created a direct and significant impact?

Then I got acquainted to ‘prioritization’. Okay I was at least able to decide what to do first among the routine checklist of some 20-25 tasks. I had by now, in five years, filled more than six regular notes diaries at work. I was using more than one in a year although each one had more than 365 blank pages.

Then gradually, I had a sense of withdrawal from the whole process of writing and executing. I could see colleagues moving across office space casually, sipping coffee, talking, long walks post lunch, etc. I was having a feeling of an assistant to all who came to me for advice, direction and decision. IUnclear sentence was reminding them or following-up (“uskaMore…(“USA kyaKya’sKya hua?,More…human? , ussMore…uses koMore…know waiseMore…wise he karMore…Karl raheMore…rather ho?,ho?ho, wo time se karMore…Karl lena?)Lena?)

Tools like workspace, workchat orTools like workspace, work chat or Trello were not at disposal. I wondered if they could help. I wondered if I was planning to delegate and forget. Am I trying to draw comfort from the fact that the task has been assigned and now a trail of record of same on online tools suffices my stance?

I am realizing that attention span is equally important when it comes to execution of a task or a strategy. Prioritization alone does not help.

So when I decide to be ‘free’ at work, it’s for the sake of focusing and prioritizing with up most attention span. Not for long walks post lunch or chats with colleagues who serve no purpose.

Finding a match

Just before being unemployed for four months last year, I was primarily involved in hiring the middle and top management. The Job was assigned as an additional responsibility courtesy having known and understood the business needs and culture for 5 years then. 

Multiple iterations were involved in defining the job and recruitment consultants were assigned the task of shortlisting. Sample profiles being circulated amongst the members of the hiring committee. Timelines were defined. Someone had put across a JD as well.

 But by the time the first few shortlists were called for the interview, the JD was long forgotten. What remained in memory was few words describing the JD i.e. may be just the job title. For e.g. CFO with manufacturing experience.
Later, when I was myself a potential recruit, the experience still did not change. I applied for a job descriptions that seemed utopian, roles that only a super human or God would qualify for.

Hiring is not easy. It’s like a match-making for courtship. If it lasts, it will not for meeting the expectations but adjusting to the needs and priorities that evolve with passage of time. Learning this trait costs time and money. If successful it would still be a random event.

A research published in HBR outlines the top skills that professionals intend to possess. People management skills were rated far lower then technical skills that robots are likely to replace soon. With quants in hands of robots, the world will be simple again – we would need humans who come together for tasks that no robot may perform for centuries together. 

So coming back on criticality of JD, it is important to:

A. Define a JD that is realistic

B. Not forgotten when transitioning into the hiring process

C. Spread the process over a few months atleast in case of senior recruits

D. Keep JD realistic. Re-confirm whether the requirements being listed can be defined as skills. If not, then please keep them out of the JD.

Back to Basics

I was asked “Why did you leave your last Company?” I could have been more refined when I blurted out the truth. But I said, “keeda hai” (urge to change even if for sake of it).

Today, when I face the same usual challenges that I had faced earlier, I feel like going back to basics. I wonder if changing jobs is actually helping me “cross the chasm” as felt by the professional inside me. 

The urge to deliver, to make-it-happen, to do it for ‘self’ and not only for the employer, to be sincere, to make an impact, to focus and deliver ONLY results is something that gives me sleepless nights. 
But then I am always back to basics and I may keep doing so in future as well. 
May be basics here are the basic traits that I outlined above.

 I wonder?

Compensation puzzle


One of the best questions I got to answer recently was “Who compensates you?” I promptly uttered ‘Work’.

Then I substantiated my reply stating that when I receive my monthly compensation (‘fixed’) it’s for my eligibility for employ-ability in the coming month rather previous month for which I am contractually eligible. Some may critique this as a too short-term approach to employment highlighting distrust towards one’s employer. They will have their opinion refined when they read further.

Compensation is a universal term that not only constitutes the explicit monetary reward but also the intrinsic rewards like belongingness to an institution, recognition, positivity, stability, and security.

Taking the economists assumption of a ‘perfect world’ with all humans ‘rational’, the word ‘compensation’ will be limited to monthly salary one draws for her work. However, we know that’s not true. We would not have four decades of empirical research on annual performance appraisals and impact of incentives of employee outcomes. And then quantum of time spent by on designing innovative reward structures.

I have often seen employers struggle with a right approach to fixing the executive compensation. Whether incentives should be included? Should a variable component added to the annual compensation payable? Is annual performance appraisal system needed?

To further substantiate the above, behavioral research is putting forth the negative impact of explicit compensation like incentives. It is said to be displacing other motivations like altruism, civic duty, and professionalism that humans are known for. This is true when we have forensic audit firms with their crude suggestions ruining the residual and scarce feelings of selflessness and responsibility.

Thinking objectively, I was able to compile below key aspects of compensation that may help employers address the compensation puzzle:

1. ‘Performance appraisal’ should be ‘reasonable’ when defined. We have ‘transparency’ and ‘objectivity’ achieved but ‘reasonableness’ goes missing.

2. If there is a variable component linked to annual compensation then the efficacy for annual appraisals is limited.

3. 70% of the performance of an institution is influenced by external factors or ‘factors’ beyond the control of any single employee.

4. If the average age is less than 30 years, then a good percentage of employed is ‘Next gen’ who will anyways change jobs every 2-3 years. In Asia, the average employee turnover is nearing 10% or higher.

5. As humans, reward visible in near future and measurable is more attractive but may produce undesirable behavior.

6. Limit the annual performance appraisal process for promoting or transferring to other functions.

7. The annual inflation-adjusted increase in compensation is not a necessity anymore.

My pitch to a recruiter!

I wholly understand the desperation and criticality of a start-up to not end-up being reckoned amongst those who hire and then fire. As a potential employee I need to appreciate the ‘risk’ and hence the inherent ‘expectation’ that an entrepreneur builds around his hiring decision. He is well aware of the fact that an individual’s contribution may not be more than 10% in total scheme of things yet he bets on falling into the trap to hire – hire in hope of being party to the ‘luck’ that may come with a potential recruit who has been ‘lucky’ in his past employment. Even if it’s all random, it’s more about cracking the code.

So all start-ups some wisdom on your business (of course only if it’s funded by the PEs):

a. They are to ‘milk’ your idea. Remember not to fall into trap of higher growth just because more money is available on table.

b. “Equity” is precious. Never offer it instantly to any new hire. It reflects that you value your own ‘idea’ (since it’s still not a sustainable business) far lower than the ‘pitch’ used to reach the target audience.

c. Remember the fact that ‘randomness’ is a fact and luck will play a significant role. If that’s what is accepted, choose to grow at a pace that is sustainable. After all firms gain ‘competitive advantage’ as function of time more than anything else.

So when out to hire, some caveats:

1. Try not to be an optimizer

2. Be careful on bias the causality may bring when reviewing the profiles and

3 Remember the inverse rule – no super heroes exist and if they do it’s only random

If you find me interesting, I will ATTEMPT to be rewarding as well 🙂