Personal life sheds light on desired quality of candidates

I have led a pretty unconventional professional life. It has largely been dictated by ill health that has plagued me since age 10. I have undertaken several types of work in diverse fields ranging from programming to graphic design to corporate communication to business consulting. Every time I would start to look for a new job, I found myself as a beginner even though I had several years (and later decades) of experience under my belt. Meeting people, pitching for a job, I have often wondered about the method that prospective employee employ to evaluate a candidate? Is it just right credentials – qualifications + organization worked in + career path or can there be other indicators?
Persistence is a quality I put a lot of value on. If I was on the interviewing panel, I would check for it. If one is ready to spend a little time talking about general things, candidate’s nature can be gauged in depth. Looking at my battle for becoming healthy, I would rate myself very highly on the “persistence”. I have undertaken numerous therapies to find one that can deliver success. Along with conventional remedies, I have explored many alternate therapies that have delivered success to the point that conventional remedies have not. What this indicates about my nature is:
1)       Experimental nature
2)       Always looking for success – Persistent person
3)       Not afraid to let go when things don’t work out
4)       Conventional solutions are not unnecessarily debunked
As an employer would you want such qualities in a prospective candidate? If yes, then perhaps it does pay to know a little more about candidates than the work they might have delivered so far.

What should be primary online vehicle for information about activities?

I have been maintaining Facebook page for an NGO I volunteer with for past few months. While discussing our online presence, we came face to face with the question whether to start a blog or continue with sharing of activities on Facebook page.
Since we are part of a large organization, certain decisions are taken for us unless we can influence them with logical arguments. Desire for the blog stemmed from certain requirements such as:

  1. Our supporters or people who want to know more about the organization will be visiting our website. A blog on the website will give them a view of our activities.
  2. Not every one is on Facebook or likes visiting Facebook.
  3. Depending on Facebook to share our activities would mean that we are depending on Facebook’s policies. Recently we have seen that facebook is making changes which will adversely affect organizations with limited financial resources.
  4. We would have greater control over our photographs and archive of posts.
  5. We will be able to showcase important posts as we desire.
  6. Currently Facebook offers limited features. With our own blog, we will have access to many features developed by 3rd party or develop few according to our needs.
  7. People are likely to trust blog hosted on our website a lot more than Facebook page.

We are sure many organizations feel the need to decide between blog and Facebook page as their primary vehicle to share information about their activities. Could we have added anything further to strengthen our demand for the blog?

Are weight loss attempts similar to corporate streamlining?

I have been trying to lose weight. But that is not what drives me to write this blogpost. Yesterday, I saw a weird similarity between a person working to lose weight and a company working to streamline its operations. Weird – right? Stay with me and tell me if this is so.
First, a look at the reasons for occurrence of the problem:
1) A person mostly gains weight because they are eating more than the energy they require. A company mostly tends to gain flab because they have more people on their rolls than is required.
2) When a person’s system goes out of balance and the metabolism slows down, weight gain occurs. When employees/management do not work cohesively, efficiency and effectiveness in the company goes down.
3) Sometimes a person gains weight due to illness which is similar to a company’s operations being affected by a non-performing department.
When I became uncomfortable with the weight gain and decided to address the problem, I tried various methods – analyzing the reasons for the weight gain, diet regulation, exercise etc. Companies also undertake measures to increase efficiency and productivity.
Often one hears about companies downsizing its employee base. It can be compared to procedures like liposuction which does seem to be a good solution initially. But in reality, if other steps are not taken, the problem returns after some time. For long-term solution, core reasons for the problem have to be addressed.
Most companies in India tend to overwork their employees with the belief that it will lead to maximum returns. Such working methods lead to decrease in efficiencies and productivity due to increase in errors by employees, loss in creativity, increased stress etc. Some people tend to over-exercise or over-diet which leads to breakdown of body’s capacity to find the balance and address the weight issue. An overworked system cannot reach health and vitality.
Without real understanding of the cause of the problem, no one can lose weight and keep it off without affecting health which is absolutely true for companies wanting to streamline their operations. There is no one fit all. If one wants to permanent solution, constant work is required. Knee jerk reactions or solutions also never work.
It has been 1.5 years since I first took steps to lose weight. Many other problems have exacerbated the issue and needed simultaneous attention. Finally what has clinched it is an understanding of the problem, determination, addressing the problem on multiple fronts and a big dose of mental equanimity. I think it was the last bit that brought everything together as an effective solution.

Effective customer care – a utopian dream?

A friend had recently tweeted about not receiving replacement for the damaged product delivered by an e-com company even after 5 days. She had reported the issue as soon as she had opened the package and was promised resolution within 3 days. A week down from the day of incidence and she was still waiting.
She had always had good experience with the same company so this incidence was unexpected and troublesome. The company has, over time, built up a very good reputation for delivering to the satisfaction of the customers and thus customer like my friend has started expecting high level of efficiency from them. But problems do crop up once in a while in any service, and she was fine with it as long as it was resolved in the stated time period. The fact that promised replacement did not occur and nor did any further communication come through from Company’s end, caused her to take her ire to social networks.
One can say that not much damage occurred because of one unhappy customer but the company lost the trust of one loyal customer as well a permanent statement of below-par service was posted on internet. Besides this, she as an influencer, created a negative image of Company’s service.
This brings up the often discussed topic of customer care in India. As a consumer and a service provider, I cannot overemphasize the need for a robust customer care department which has direct access to the service team. Most customer care departments seem to have been set up to note down problems in a specific format and parrot a standard response. Customer care executives are neither trained to handle customer’s feelings nor understand the issues which may not exactly fall in a predefined structure. And they are definitely not trained to handle unresolved long-standing issues. Why don’t companies understand that customers don’t want to call them unless they genuinely have a problem?
When customers call with a problem, they want the following:

  1. Problem to be noted down (mandatory)
  2. Someone to ease their agitation (desired but not mandatory)
  3. An expected date by which the problem will be resolved (mandatory)
  4. To be provided the process of resolving the problem (mandatory)

a. if the customer can resolve himself, then the methodology to do so
b. if a serviceman needs to visit the location, then the expected date of visit & other details
c. if the product has to be brought to service centre, then details about it

When the customer’s issue falls within standard list of issues, customer care executives are mostly able to help out. Their politeness and concern for customer ensures a happy after-feeling in majority of cases. But when the issue goes beyond the standard list of issues, customer care executives should quickly pass it on those who can understand and provide proper response. Time is of essence for the customer. Quicker the resolution, better is the impression left with the customer. Unfortunately most customer care departments don’t seem to have a closely connected service department and the customer care so that complicated issues can be passed on to relevant service personnel. Such a system will ensure minimal loss of time in bringing about resolution for the customer.
Another major grouse that I have against the customer care is with respect to problems which have not been resolved despite repeated complaints. If a customer starts the call/mail with the information that they have been trying to get the issue resolved for a long time without success, it is important for the company to understand the urgency. A long-standing unresolved issue leads to erosion of company’s/brand’s image. In such cases the customer case executive attending the call/mail should have the power to escalate the issue to the service department on priority basis while keeping the manager in loop. If possible, they should also provide a direct contact to a manager so that customer feels that company is as concerned as him to bring a swift and successful resolution to the issue. Very few people abuse this direct contact but almost every one appreciates the show of trust.
Customer acquisition is an expensive and often painful process. It does not happen when a product or service is bought, but can be considered successful only when the new customer has received satisfactory service.

Will we be able to recruit teachers for our schools?

What can be done to address the immediate requirement for lakhs of teachers acrossIndia?
When I was asked this question, I rattled off a host of things that could be done. Since the exchange was on twitter, constraint of word-space forced me to be barely touch upon various tactics to address the problem.
The interaction didn’t end there as it had started a thought process.
There are millions of unemployed graduates inIndiatoday. Why is it that they don’t want to consider Teaching as a profession? Government is constantly releasing statistics about need for teachers in government schools so no one can say that opportunities don’t exist. Then is it that these schools exist in areas that no one wants to work in?  Why are such areas not favoured by people?
So why do most people not want to get into Teaching profession?
Some of the common reasons that influence choice of profession are:
1)       It is valued in the society
2)       It is paying
3)       Other members of the community have achieved success in it
4)       Fulfills family’s needs and aspirations
5)       Provides perks and prestige
Teaching profession has fallen from grace from the time ofIndependence. In that era teachers were revered by students as well the society. Though teachers didn’t make much money, they were held in high esteem in their community. Family felt a sense of pride though they struggled with low income.
Today’s society largely runs after money. Professions which do not pay well are the last choice for most young people. Families are not accepting of a choice of professions which are not high paying as their needs and aspirations are very high. Closely connected world has made people aware of everything that is available in the world and they want it all. No longer does pride in profession suffice. In earlier times, small amounts of money went a long way as the community supported teachers’ family in various ways. Such consideration towards teachers is not seen today. People with high income, however it may be earned, are feted while those with less wealth are ignored or worse insulted.
So what can we do to make the teaching profession attractive for educated unemployed?
Firstly we need to start paying our teachers a salary which is more or less equivalent to salaries people in other profession draw. Bring accountability, reward good performance, penalize on bad performance but start paying well. Just like we have for armed services, we need to substantiate teachers’ salary with perks and facilities.
Secondly, the profession has to have an aspiration quality. This is far more difficult to pull off. It will need long term concerted effort if higher powers are serious about filling up empty posts in schools. Once it becomes ‘aspired for’ profession, society will start valuing teachers and then unemployed will choose to become one.
The question still remains – are we willing to tackle the issue honestly?

Should reviews be supportive?

Which scenario would you prefer –

  1. People found faults with you and the product that you created, said it was not good enough
  2. People helped you see ways in which you could improve things while appreciating you/your product

I remember watching old hindi movies where a child runs up to his Grandmom showing off the latest weird creation of his. Grandmom would exclaim in admiration, gather up the kid in her arms and commend him for his creativeness. Next scene had the kid running off excitedly to dream up next creation.
I would love to read product/ company reviews which are constructive and includes these aspects:
Review people/products & services without slamming them: It is easy to find faults but as any person knows, to create requires effort. Appreciating the effort goes a long way in forming a positive association between reviewer and reviewed. It creates a base for open and honest dialogue.
Make suggestions to improve: While reviewing, drawing up a list of things that can be improved or added to create an improved version of product, works to encourage the reviewed. If the list is named as deficiencies of the product, it disheartens people and erodes their confidence.
Be supportive: If reviews give the impression that the reviewer is a well-wisher who desires growth for the company/product, it encourages people to talk about problems and seek suggestions and solutions.
Supportive reviews do not come at cost of honesty. It only means that the reviewer recognizes the effort put into creating and shares expectation of better products in a considerate manner.
Happiness, creativity, good deeds, support – these are all contagious. More we contribute to the pool, greater is the chance that we will find these in our life. I know when I launch my venture, I hope to be treated gently and with consideration. Before that I need to ensure my delivery matches the expectations I have from life.

Commitment phobia – happens too often

A casual glance over reveals that commitment phobia is endemic in modern lives. It is related not only to relationships. We all practice it in various ways.
Most of the time, it is spoken in context of relationship. But that is just one aspect. As I looked deeper, I realized that its practice is deeply entrenched in my life. Before I became aware of this, I didn’t own anything – not even my mobile connection. Nor did I choose to put my name onto any venture. I called it ‘being a freebird’.
Offshoot of this fact was that I didn’t develop any leadership. What really bothered me was lack of achievements in my life. I thought this lack of achievement was because I was not accomplished enough. I was just a graduate with major health issues dogging me. These were just excuses, as I learnt. I started wondering if I was afraid to commit to achieving good health as it will knock this big excuse from my life. Without this excuse, I had no place to hide from lack of goals and achievements.
The day I realized this, it was like bottom dropped from my world. I felt so exposed. I didn’t have any further excuses unless I chose not to face the truth. Since then it has been an interesting journey. I am noticing that all of a sudden I am in situations where I am taking leadership role. All this while I thought I was not equipped for it but the reality was different. When the situations came up, I was doing pretty well. Large amounts of learning coupled with immense sense of achievement became the norm. Committing meaning putting oneself onto line to ensure that it became successful so not committing was easier but when committing, life was filled with zing.
And the best realization was that when I started committing, space for complaints reduced drastically. I was too busy trying to make things work to look and crib about non-working aspects. Everything became a game – to see how I could go past roadblocks. And once I was past them, it was celebration time.

Stale news – relevant or irrelevant?

Is the news only relevant if it is breaking news or at least posted on the day it happens?
The question floated in my head as I read about a Company announcement on Thursday on a website covering happenings in digital. This announcement had been made on Monday. If we went by the hypothesis that only current news items should be posted, then it should not have been posted on the website in question.
Personally it made sense to post a short article on the announcement, even though it was very delayed, on several counts:

  1. If ever I am looking up information about the Company on this website, I will also get to know about this announcement. My research will be complete which means that I will continue to use this website while researching company announcements and information.
  2. Any subsequent news related to this announcement will be posted (hopefully in time) and background explained by giving link to this article.
  3. This news can easily be part of a summation/collation of similar news items especially at time of year end news round ups.
  4. Even though delayed, it still gives a chance to readers to post their POV about the news. In many cases delayed POVs gives a much better analysis of how the event may affect the company/industry.
  5. The website continues to maintain goodwill with the Company.

If you were covering industry news as a business, would you post news on your website even though it was a bit stale? Are there any other benefits or drawbacks to posting stale news?

Social Network Sites – bane or boon?

I have been questioning a lot about my participation in online social network sites (SNS). Many a times it appears like time wasting exercise especially since I am yet to monetize it in any way. Then I console myself that, since these sites are rapidly becoming an integral part of marketing and communication plans, I need to be aware of user behaviour especially as I continue my journey as communication consultant.
One of the things that power users of twitter will tell you is that more often than not the platform is used to crib and rant. A new rant for each day has become an ongoing joke on twitter. It’s not really an erroneous opinion. Easy usability does lend itself to voicing anger, irritation or dislike. But the medium has also provided a beautiful method to support people in their happiness and tough times.
As quick are twitteratis to voice their discontent, they don’t hesitate to delight in happiness of their twitter friends. The support extended during crisis or tough times is equally heartwarming. If efforts have been made to share, help and participate in conversations, equal love flows when help is sought. And this is not restricted to online. People form connections on these social networks and honour it in offline life too.
When I pause and look at the positives, I am enchanted by these new medium of connecting that this generation has evolved. Does it have downside? Of course it does, like any other thing which is abused by overuse or otherwise. So, like always, it is up to me!

The experience of writing collaborative story on twitter

The idea itself came up while commenting on the collaborative writing and illustrating event by Pratham Books. It went unnoticed till Pratham Books retweeted this ‘Anyone willing to join in creating a story for kids on twitter using illustration from @prathambooks website? How abt… ‘. Five or six twitter folks showed interest out of which four agreed to join the experiment. A methodology was quickly chalked out and we started off.
Since I had started the ball rolling, I wanted this to reach completion. Since this was one of those cases where participants had just met and had no relationship with each other, there was a high possibility that the exercise could be abandoned midway by the participants. I didn’t want that to happen. Putting myself up in public eye does not come naturally to me. I prefer to work from shadows. And then to face failure – it was something that I wanted to avoid. Luckily the participants stuck through till the end and in fact, we even gained one new writer.
For a long time I have wanted to become a storyteller for kids. The idea of having good story telling session in a book store/library on a regular basis really appeals to me. Not knowing if I had the skill to weave stories for tiny tots which would ignite their imagination and keep them enthralled, kept the idea on backburner. And then this opportunity came. I started off, digging into all that I remembered about my time with cousins and things that fascinated them. I surprised myself in a good way. I admired the imagination of other participants and I reveled/laughed/giggled at the way story was proceeding. If the fear of not completing the story was not there, I would have wanted this madness to go on longer.
Should we do this again? Any takers?