Saturday, December 24, 2016


EFFECTIVE PEOPLE by TV Rao, Random House, India, 2015, p 408

Organizations are facing the challenge of managing people effectively in order to boost organizational performance. In the competitive environment motivation of employees has become key determinant as to whether they are driven from within to work harder and help the organization achieving its goal or the force from beyond. When Philip Kotler visited India and was asked to add one more ‘P’ to McCarthy's well worshiped 4 Ps of marketing, his response was quick and focused, ‘it has to be People’. Dale Carnegie had said that for excelling business results 85% is People Management and remaining 15% is management of all other resources. It is in this context that when I learnt about this title ‘Effective People’ by the father of HRD in India, Professor TV Rao, there was no second thought but to find his take on the ways that help improve effectiveness of people. 

The book is an excellent account of some of the high achievers of India and is based primarily on personal experiences and interactions with the people the author met on his commendable journey as an academic, motivator, researcher, institution builder and author. Apart from people who have been associated with him, he has also picked some who have not directly affected him but have influenced his thinking on the constituents of those determinants which make a person effective. The criterion for selecting an effective person to be included in the volume is his personal definition of effective person which is:
‘Anyone who discovers inner talent, uses it to make a difference in the lives of other people in a way that benefits them can be considered an effective person. We are all born talented and in different settings. However, some master their circumstances and manage them through their inner talent, These people may be teachers, social workers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, entrepreneurs, civil servants, development workers, businessmen, managers, chartered accountants, scientists, actors or self-employed, etc.’
The selection of people has been his personal choice based on the above criterion and further through engagements on social media apart from the literature that he went through reading the works of authors who have written on successful and effective people. I would like to divide the book into three sections (though the author has not done that). First section as the Background (Introduction – Chapter 1), Second as Profiling Effective People (Chapter 2 to 8) and Third as Takeaways or Lessons (Chapter 9 to 16). The book profiles effective people in seven categories viz., Doctors, Film Actors, Civil Servants, Educational Entrepreneurs, Professors, Social Workers, and Other Professions. 

Out of all the doctors that he profiles and brings out their propositions for being effective doctors, Dr MC Modi (Ophthalmologist), Dr Pratap Reddy (Cardiologist), Dr Devi Shetty (known for open heart surgeries), and Dr Naresh Trehan (Cardiovascular & Cardiothoracic surgeon) stand out and their common purpose to save lives along with strong determination to leave behind a rich legacy make them effective. The lives of film actors like Anupam Kher, Kangana Ranaut, Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, and Shah Rukh Khan have been narrated with their contribution and achievements. Though they play the role as assigned to them, as individuals their work behavior, commitment, style, and discipline make them effective. The roles they have played have left the audiences with some strong messages to carry and practical values to follow in order to remain effective. Managers can really learn lot from their life journeys, their characters, and their personalities. Learning from failures is a very strong message that one draws from the story of Amitabh Bachchan. 

Personal involvement of the author with the civil servants for developing better education system provides insights into the lives of some prominent civil servants who displayed their commitment to the cause of educational well-being of India. The names of Inderjit Khanna and Anil Bordia stand out as effective bureaucrats who played their role in drafting key education policies and spearheaded such initiatives. Apart from them the profiles and journeys of N Vittal (a civil servant known for his concern for transparency), Vinod Rai (CAG who walked extra mile to unearth some infamous scams like 2G, CWG, Coalgate etc), D R Mehta (bureaucrat who had strong concern for social causes), E Sreedharan (bureaucrat turn Metro Man), Kiran Bedi (first lady IPS and social activist), K P C H Gandhi (known for his contribution on forensic sciences and zero pendency), Arvind Kejriwal, Jaiprakash Narayan are narrated with the lessons that a manager or any person who want to be effective can learn. All these people are said to be restless, hard working, having development goal in mind, strongly driven by their value system, innovative and creative. 

The learning from effective people in the category of educational entrepreneurs is that all of them thought differently and had a strong desire to create an institution which caters to the educational needs of society. The knowledge of the task, will power to face the challenge, and the ability to engage with the stakeholders could make them effective as educational leaders. Effectiveness lessons drawn from the experiences of professors are placed succinctly as in-depth knowledge, commitment to the cause, innovativeness in thinking and delivery, strong sense of institution building, and proper succession planning through creating and patronizing next generation professors. 

All the chapters profiling different professions ended with effectiveness lessons and an interesting exercise having Self-Assessment Tool based on profession specific effectiveness requirement which one could assess based on five point Likert scale. This makes the book rich, valuable and practical. Personally I really liked all the tools given as they provide strong variables for judging effectiveness of the profession viz-a-viz., individual. 

The third section which is covered from chapter 9 to 16 deals with eight important takeaways or lessons which could be used by managers or any individual who aspires to achieve the set target. This is where the author’s contribution become most important. These eight lessons are found to be common in all the effective people discussed in the volume and as the author believes if one concentrates on these determinants, one could become effective in whatever he or she does. These eight key points are: 
1. Effective People Think Differently (Chapter 9) - so one has to find out one’s inner talent through experimentation and concentrate on capitalizing on that through thinking differently.
2. Effective People Stretch Their Talent (Chapter 10) – exploring new vistas and opportunities by stretching the limits in different situations.
3. Effective People Consider Values as Core Drivers (Chapter 11) – being firm in matters of principle and maintaining high value standards which are result of bringing up (family and environment) without succumbing to pressures and establishing superordinate goals.
4. Effective People Are Compassionate (Chapter 12) – sense of togetherness and concern for others coming through empathy.
5. Effective People Live With Purpose (Chapter 13) – strong commitment to the purpose as per their vision, mission and goal helping in achieving the goal.
6. Effective People Reach Out to Many (Chapter 14) – looking outward and connecting with the stakeholders through different modes by being perseverant and positive.
7. Effective People Take Initiative and Build Institutions (Chapter 15) – displaying strong sense of initiation and responsibility to build great institutions to contribute for good and sustenance.
8. Effective People Are Integrative Not Divisive (Chapter 16) – inclusiveness and not exclusiveness to be practiced at all levels by imbibing virtues of integrating personality leading towards organization building viz-a-viz nation building. 
These are all virtues for becoming effective. All these chapters also had series of questions at the end guiding the reader for search and resolution within in order to be effective. The examples as narrated by the author are exemplary and are very practical and many of them come from management institutes, Bollywood movies, cricket world, bureaucracy and government system. Almost all the individuals profiled in this volume have created great institutions. I was expecting a detailed profile of TN Sheshan who redefined the role of Chief Election Commissioner in India and ever since the whole process of conduct of elections in India has undergone transformation. The book is autobiographical at many places which makes it very selective yet interesting part of the book is its first person narrative as a style of writing.

All the lessons are fully applicable for any manager working in an organization be it profit making or otherwise. And to that end this project of the author is successful in guiding all its readers. The author mentions - My aim is to write a book that can help many more people to become effective (p 13). I am sure it really makes lot of sense and would certainly be a practical guide for all its readers. 

People are important resource for any organization and this book makes an effective effort to teach the nuances of leading and being effective. I strongly recommend this title to all the libraries and to all who aspire to achieve greater heights in their professional career or entrepreneurial venture.

[Published in Nice Journal of Business, vol.... no.... ]

Thursday, July 7, 2016


MATCH THE AGE TO KEEP THEM ENGAGED - Decoding the secrets of creating a happy workplace by DEEPAK MALHOTRA (2015), Bloomsbury Publishing India Ltd., New Delhi, p 204

The dominance of competitive business environment is compelling the organizations to devise ways to control cost and improve efficiency. Organizational effectiveness has become much larger a challenge to deal with especially in the last few decades. The role of HR is becoming crucial and for sustaining organizational performance, improving workplaces and retaining talent is the key. In these times Dr Deepak Malhotra brings out this volume which is based on his primary research and personal experiences to raise and answer some of the key questions to deal with employees at the workplaces and to transform these workplaces into happy workplaces.

I share my concern on employability with the author. We are in different times and we need to develop the workforce to deal with challenges at the transforming workfronts.  Employees have to develop an attitude to respond to the call of time. The figures on employability of our youth are really shocking. All of us have this challenge to deal with.

Employee Engagement has caught the attention of HR academicians and practitioners and in that continuity this book is able to attract the attention to look at the concept from a different angle. One cannot have same yardstick to measure the performance of all the employees. Similarly organizations cannot have same process of engaging the employees of all ages. This is the basic premise of the book which provides an impressive account of his research findings as well as prescriptions to the managers to follow certain paths to respond to the needs to the workforce. Their needs are different and so should be their responses and remedies.

The book begins with the research procedure and key findings which further leads the way to suggest measures to improve work environment through effectively engaging employees based on their age. There seems to be no difference in the degree of engagement so far as gender is concerned however number of years spent in the organization show difference and till one spend around 5 years, the number of engaged employees seem to grow.  I find it quite interesting to note that after spending around 5 years in an organization the number of engaged employees start falling.  This makes lot of sense and as a student of HR, I feel it could be because of the gap between expectations and the experiences.  At mid-level it occurs to employees in general.

Deepak divides the workforce in the brackets of the age groups 46 years and above (Baby Boomers), 31-45 years (Gen X) and up to 30 years (Gen Y). The generation below 30 years of age is considered as One click generation comprising of Gen G (12 to 18 years) and others as Gen I.  His concern for all the brackets is well placed and his articulation and tenacity to look at the need, expectations, exposure of One click generation is very apt.  He suggests different ways of engaging them as the needs of these employees are different. This is unique aspect of his research and it makes lot of sense when one goes through the suggestions. 'Match the Age' in the title of the book is based on this finding and a sizable part of the book is devoted in explaining and suggesting measures to increase the number of engaged or fully engaged employees at different levels. His personal experience in different organizations add value to the suggestions as well as to the whole volume.

As the author mentions, in India only around 9-10 percent of employees are fully engaged as against 15 percent as per global standards and globally around 25 percent are disengaged as against 30 percent in India. These figures pose a challenge to HR department. HR has to be considered as line function in order to increase the number of satisfied employees and thereby fully engaged workers. As argued by Vineet Nayar in his book on EFCS, one has to prioritize employees over customers to win over customer satisfaction. Only engaged employees can effectively engage customers.

The mention of entrepreneurial leadership is very frequent in the book which speaks of the author’s intention to assure engagement of employees through creative ways of leadership. This is very important in the present day organizations and the lack of effective leader is driven by this fact that mostly they do not possess the ability to take risk and lead creativity. Deepak has successfully dealt with this aspect of leadership and narrated several personal incidences. His interest in cricket and Indian movies is well reflected through the writings in the boxes and their relevance with the theme of the book 'Keep them Engaged'.

Though EE has been criticized as nothing new and old-wine-in-new-bottle experience, it has been able to convince the academicians as an area of further exploration and an activity worth pursuing by the organizations to improve decision making, follow participative management and to win over employees through their active involvement. It also leads to create a feel of freedom, choice and commitment for employees to perform their best.

One of his observation:
If you ask me, I have never seen one person in the last two decades, who has been satisfied with his/her current remuneration.  Then why do people stick with reputed brands like TATA, even when they pay lower than the competitor? (p 137).

The book is full of Engage and Match bullets which could be of good help to managers. However it does not leave the reader with the takeaways in key points except that the employees of different age needs different treatment. Though the anecdotes, personal observations and experiences connect the dots nicely, yet the generalizations take away the seriousness of the proposed practices. If I have to point out some key ways to EE across different age groups, they would be:
  • appropriate and timely rewards (performer vs non-performer, fair pay)
  • improve communication (forward & backward feed)
  • finding proper talent match (managing & retaining talent)
  • ethical behavior (leader & other employees)
  • effective work-life balance policy (flextime & flexjob)
  • develop learning teams (technology & transformations)
  • identifying training needs (self-assessment & industry requirements)
  • build conducive work environment (free flow and exchange of views)

Though the book may not have academic rigor in its approach, it makes a good read for practicing managers. I recommend it to all who are interested to find ways to improve employee engagement and further to them who play strategic role in devising HR strategies towards attaining and sustaining organizational effectiveness.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

THE FLIPSIDE by Adam J Jackson

THE FLIPSIDE: Finding the hidden opportunities in life by ADAM J JACKSON, (2009), Hachette, Headline Business Plus, London, p 260

There comes a time in the life of almost each one of us when we have to make a choice between taking life head on or surrendering before circumstances. Choices are made as per our priority, environment and the gene that drives us to stand with our decision. Sometime it is due to our physical weakness and sometime it is our attitude. Flipside literally is the other side or the side which is not that positive, which is not that bright. I grew up with some quotes occupying sizable memory of my mind - the grass on the other side looks greener; only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches or only the corpse knows what is going on in the grave; Elephant has two set of teeth - one to show off and the other to chew, etc etc.

When we look at the life of successful people we get lured by their followership, their living style, their admiration, and their sense of achievement. We look at their present status. But when we start learning more about them and their journey and the hardships that they faced we become more rationale. Our understanding becomes better and at times we learn that the kind of problems they faced, the kind of physical torture they experienced, the kind of resource crunch they had, it was almost impossible to excel at what they decided to do and contribute.

Then there are people who found opportunity at a time when they were facing the low at life, they transformed their weaknesses into opportunity by taking challenges and finding real purpose of their existence and life. Adam Jackson has collected such great stories of people from across the globe and compiled them in such a remarkable and convincing way. This is what The Flipside as a book is all about. In one way it is a motivating read for the ones who have sustained linearity in their career and have not experienced hardships of life on the other hand it is packed with such strong nutrients to them who are facing the brunt of time and planning to give up on life that they can learn to stand up on their own and convert their weaknesses into opportunities.

The motivation to develop 'logotherapy' by Viktor Frankl who survived a holocaust is something which inspired me most. The whole science of finding meaning to life and to draw people to understand that meaning of life to them is something which in many ways changed the way psychologist thought addressed this issue. We all have grown through the teachings that for each one of us life has a meaning. What Viktor conceived while suffering during the holocaust became one of the best contributions in the domain of psychology. He learnt that main motivation for living is our strong will to find meaning in life and that led him to develop logotherapy.

I read and re-read the following stanzas few times before going further:
‘They came for him on 25 September 1942.  Along with his wife Tilly and his parents, Dr Viktor Frankl was transported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in the north-west region of what is now the Czech Republic.  It was to be the beginning of an unimaginable nightmare that would last three years, in which Dr Frankl lost almost everything and everyone that he held dear.  With the exception of his one sister who had escaped by emigrating to Australia, all of his family were murdered.  Dr Frankl survived one of the darkest, most shameful periods in Europe’s history and bore witness to deprivation and killing on a scale that had never been seen before.  Yet even in those direst of circumstances, enduring extreme hardship and facing the constant threat of death, Dr Frankl was able to find something in his suffering and through his experiences that would not just change his life, but would also go on to help literally hundreds of thousands of others. Dr Frankl did not just survive Nazi persecution, he found a flipside.’ [p 185-187]
The book is full of such experiences of people who developed products and services, who found real meaning and call from within and pursued that and excelled. The flip side drove them to think of the cause of their existence, it gave them strength to prove their point through their excellent performances and it provided them with an opportunity to transform themselves into a person who stood by one’s call. The examples of the contributions made by Graham Bell, Thomas Alva Edison, Michael Bloomberg, Louis Braille, Richard Branson, Harland Sanders, Walt Disney, Amit Goffer, Spencer Silver, Richard Turner and many others make the book rich in its content.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this title for two strong reasons. One, that it is full of well written true success stories and another is that Adam talked about many of my familiar and favourite works e.g., Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, Good to Great by Jim Collins and subjective well-being by Ed Diener and alike. The life story of Dan Ariely and his contributions are in itself a testimony to the flip side he experienced.

As a student of Business and Management I would like to relate many instances with the Theory of Constraints. I think it makes lot of sense to explore the limiting factors and to see how organizations have responded to the call of the time. My belief has been that people living in scarcity of resources and suppression demonstrate lot of inner strength to prove their meaningful existence and the competency to excel in much better way as compared to their counterparts living with all comforts of life, leisure and luxury. Adam has helped me strengthen my belief.

Though at some places I found the flow being broken and then beginning is sudden and at some places the ends are left loose, yet I recommend this book to all those who are seeking excellence and who believe that our perception towards life makes what and how we chart out our journey further.

I am reproducing an expression of Viktor Frankl as quoted in this title:
‘We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.  For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.’
also read reviews of:

Why I failed
Good to Great
How the mighty fall
Positive Psychology

Sunday, January 3, 2016

THE MARWARIS: from Jagat Seth to the Birlas by Thomas A Timberg

THE MARWARIS: from Jagat Seth to the Birlas by Thomas A Timberg (2014), Allen Lane Penguin Books India, p 184

I grew up in an environment where every kirana (grocery) store was believed to have been owned by a marwari. Whenever we were introduced to a family of businessmen from Rajasthan, it was told they are marwaris. For practical purposes we used this term as a generic word for business community prominently from Rajasthan and it was not important whether the person came from Mewar or Marwar or any other place for that matter.

Later in my career I came across some colleagues who belonged to this community and what I observed was that their attitude to life, their dealing with numbers, and their shopping behavior was much different from rest of us. And there were lot of common behavioral reflections in almost all of them. As a student of business and behavior this prompted me to go little deeper into studying their evolution as business community, their general expected behavior and their contribution in developing entrepreneurship and enterprises in India and abroad. I mostly depended on web source and found some interesting papers and publications which gave me a fair idea of their backgrounds.

In the series of the story of Indian Business initiated by London School of Economics, I came across this volume written by Thomas A Timberg. His research acumen in tracing the business history keeping the role of marwaris at the center is reflected through the authority with which he narrates the background, regions, spread, transformations in business diversification, family feuds and geographic migration.

A detailed foreword by Gurcharan Das provides the background of the author and theme of the book by pinning down minute yet important objects of traditional Marwari business setups, like sakh (goodwill), hundi (negotiable financial instrument), bazaar (market), gaddi (seat), etc. Weber’s bureaucratic structure viz-a-viz., family business structure is discussed in the foreword to distinguish between these two ways of business administration. The foreword is like a chapter on Indian business and its dominating features that are still prevalent in the businesses run by traditional marwaris. I got reminded of the stories that Gurcharan Das had mentioned in his detailed treaty on indian business in the title of India Unbound. This foreword is full of academic importance and should be a must for a student of business in India. 

Marwaris originated from the region ruled by Marwars in Rajasthan which predominantly consists of people from Shekhawati region however Jodhpur, Bikaner and Jaisalmer are the places of classical marwars. Many times while I have interacted with traders and tried knowing their origin, they have told me about their roots in Jhunjhunu which is another area from where Marwaris migrated to other parts of the country and abroad as well. Many of the marwaris are identified with their surnames as Jhunjhunwala, Singhania, Jaipuria, Ajmeras, Bikaneris etc. 

The book traces back the role of Indian business during British raj period, and the expansion of marwaris in all parts of the country. Primarily they were in providing service or doing trade activities of all kinds. Their growth during eighteenth and nineteenth century is narrated in this volume with a sense of ownership and authority citing the registers of that time and entries made in different ledgers etc. The expanded business of Jagat Seth and their relationship with British rulers find mention in the book at different places. 

Business, Politics and Society exists in interdependent space be it market, board rooms or parliament. Businesses have always contributed to the cause of social well-being and there are many instances that provide a fair account of influence of dominant business houses on decision making of politicians. It has happened in all geographies of the world and in market economy it is extremely difficult or almost impossible to operate in isolation. The business houses like Dalmias, Birlas, Tarachand Ghanshyamdas, Khetans, Goenkas, Poddars, Bajajs, etc have all contributed to the cause of nation building apart from successfully pursuing their business interests. 

No other community as a whole can teach you best the art of managing risk other than marwaris. It is in their DNA. Failure does not deter them from getting into new ventures and as time is changing their operating domains are changing as well. They are best opportunity explorers and have tremendous capacity to leverage that opportunity in their stride. However as mentioned in the book they have gone into bureaucracy and also been seen as employees in firms. Their key domains have been managing finance and the records of chartered accountants show that as marwari community they occupy largest share in the market. 

When we were studying accountancy in our school we learnt Marwari accounting procedures where we used to turn the pages (into 6 or 8 turns) and write typical traditional hindi text. The format of journal and ledger was followed and in some smaller size firms still that is followed. It is mentioned in the book that Birla’s were following unique system of accounting which is believed to have helped them much better in their decision making and they continued with the same till few years back when Kumar Mangalam Birla ordered the change and now they no more practice that traditional accounting. It is worth mentioning here that there have been questions raised as to the evolution of accounting procedures. Though we follow double entry bookkeeping which came into existence in fifteenth century (1494 AD), it has been argued elsewhere that Marwari Accounting system is older than this.

At many places in the book Timberg cites his earlier book written in 1978 in the title of The Marwaris: from traders to industrialists. I searched it and found it in our library which has added lot of value to my thinking on marwaris. As I learn now Timberg is a key authority on the subject as he has pursued this for his doctoral work in 1971. Present book in an extension of his earlier work and carries forward the developments which have happened in last three decades or so. His earlier work was written with more academic rigor, however the present version is straight and follows popular writing style, though there is substantiation of all that he mentions in the title. 

Now when I meet my Marwari friends I shall be able to relate better with their behavioral dispositions as to why do they behave the way they behave; why their outlook towards life is much different than rest of us; why their general buying pattern and priorities are different. I am better off in my understanding of Indian traders and business, their evolution and expansion pattern and their operational attitude. The business culture has gone into big transformation, it has become more cosmopolitan and universal. 

Wish that marwaris are able to maintain their culture and their identities do not get mingled and lost and become extinct in the larger business hemisphere.

also read: Arthshastra, East India Company