Thursday, 18 October 2012

It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint

I have been talking to young folks who are planning to go to college or just finishing their undergraduate degrees and getting ready for graduate school.  Most of their questions have been around what area they need to choose or pursue.

Marathon photo
Photo by Luiz Eduardo, available under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
In India, the conventional, traditional thought process has always been to pursue being a Doctor or an Engineer. Although I am an engineer and chose the traditional path, I don’t necessarily agree with that thought process. One can be successful in any field provided one has passion, dedication and discipline to achieve it.

One has a 40-year career and I understand that it is very difficult for an 18-year old to visualise or think ahead that many years. Typical careers span from your twenties till your early sixties. Do you have to work that many years? Not necessarily, but for those fortunate people who enjoy their work and have a fulfilling career would stick to their career for that many years. In those 40 years, business models, technologies, markets and interests will change, and one has to be ready to adapt to these changes.  For instance, on the product front, mobile phones have replaced pagers, and while PCs have been selling since the 80s, the market is slowly shifting from PCs to tablets and mobile devices. From a geographical point of view, the number of jobs in Emerging Markets is growing and the markets are also growing in these countries at a rapid rate. From a people point of view, the buying power of women is increasing and micro-transactions are increasing. Products need to cater to different sets of people. 

We are already in the middle of globalisation. The world is only going to get smaller. Young folks need to be more aware of the problems and the solutions across the world now more than ever. Their products will need to cater to worldwide customers. They also need to be able to work with people of different cultures and different backgrounds. I would encourage them to study and/or work in a different country. Living and working with people of a different culture is an education by itself.

Finally, and definitely most importantly is to choose a field that you are passionate about. I was watching the Mars Curiosity rover land on Mars on TV. The celebration at the successful landing of the rover from the NASA engineers caught my eye. Their celebration and cheer came from their heart and  their passion to see the Rover through a successful landing.

One of the biggest regrets I have is that I hurried through college. Make the best of the opportunities the university has to offer.You make friends for life and you start developing your network at the university. Even today, the learnings from playing team sports in school help me to resolve people conflicts at work. It also taught me to have the perseverance, to hustle to get the work done. Sadly, many people choose the best colleges, not because they like the curriculum, the subject, the professors, but to get the top paying jobs. In a few years, they become disillusioned with work. Whether you choose to be an Engineer, a doctor, a musician, a painter or anything else you have to really give it your all and be passionate about your chosen field. Only then will you be successful. The definition of Successful is different for different people. For some it could be money, for some it could be the impact you make, for some the enjoyment on a daily basis, for some it could be about helping others, and for some it could be about creativity and learning.  For most people it is likely some or all of the reasons above.

My advice to young people getting out of college would be that they need to get their fundamentals right with a wide base so that they can quickly adapt to new technologies and market. Your career is like a maze. Every time you think you have hit a dead end, you turn around and check if the next path will take you to your goal. Don't give up... It is a marathon; it is about having determination and the willpower to make it to the end goal against all odds. Be ready to run the marathon and not just the sprint. Pace your career and enjoy every minute of it...

Thursday, 30 August 2012

To trust or not to trust

You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment unless you trust enough.” -- Frank Crane.

Trust is a matter of the heart and the mind. It is both an emotional and a rational function. It is how you feel and perceive a person based on their integrity, ethics, their intent, their words and actions, and their capabilities. 

From a personal life point of view, I believe there is a lot to gain by trusting people around you. Trusting that there is someone in your life watching your back gives you huge peace of mind.  

Trust is important in the workplace too. You need to have trust in your manager, your peers and your team. Employees will give their best if they trust their manager. Building trust in your peers is also very important and possibly the most difficult relationship. While you may be competing for the same rewards, it is also important to build that mutual respect. It’s a great work environment when peers have mutual respect and trust each other's capabilities, ethics and intent. 

Most goals and achievements are attainable through a team effort. Managers cannot sign up for goals, especially the stretch goals, if they cannot trust their team. When there is lack of trust between the manager and employees, there is lack of emotional connection and this leads to many more issues – like insecurity, taking credit for others work, trying to get visibility through incorrect ways.

Good managers usually are able to gain the trust of their team.  They stand by their teams during good times and bad times. In typical work environments many times things do not go as planned. The team needs to trust that their manager will understand and not hold it against them.

Good managers also give respect to individuals in their team. They trust the capabilities of their team members and will depend on them. The saying “give respect and then take respect” actually works well at the work place. I have developed a healthy respect for my managers who have respected me for my capabilities. This turns into trust over time. When the manager trusts the team, the team also trusts the manager over time. Clearly, trust is reciprocal.

Good managers are typically secure about their own abilities and capabilities. They are more ready to help build the careers of the individuals on their teams and help them reach their full potential. This helps the team build faith and trust in the manager. When managers are secure about their capabilities, they are also secure in showing their vulnerabilities to their team. One of my senior managers was talking to me about speaking in front of large audience.  While he did speak often to large audience he told me that his stomach always crunches before a large meeting. This put me at ease for my next talk. The fact that this manager could share his vulnerabilities to help me gained my trust in him.

While trust can build a happy life and a good environment at the work place, it can also be very risky and you can get hurt when people you trust deceive you. But being deceived does not mean one can lose faith in people around them. You cannot go on everyday thinking that people around you are out to "get" you and are ready to back stab you.  It is only with the trust of your team that you can plan big and achieve those difficult goals. Someone has to extend the hand first for the handshake -- maybe the manager/leader of the team reaches out and takes the first step towards building trust. While it may seem more emotional than rational to trust people almost blindly, I think you gain a lot and eventually gain the trust of people around you. 

I agree with Frank Crane...  For my own peace of mind, I would like to be an optimist and trust most people around me. Wouldn't you?

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Happy Team – Happy Family

I have been visiting many engineering colleges the past few months. Many of the colleges talked about collaboration between the different Engineering schools/Departments and how they encourage students to work with students from other disciplines on their under graduate projects. I visited some top schools like MIT and Stanford and they were also discussing collaboration. They select the top students from the world. These students get there because they are very competitive. In such a high powered student community how would one build and encourage a collaborative team?
The same goes to Engineering teams in the corporate world. We hire the best and promote the best among them to senior levels. By nature the senior team is competitive. How do you take this competitive senior team and expect them to be collaborative?
With true collaboration, the collective results are typically higher than what each participant could achieve individually. Collaboration cannot be coerced; it has to be part of the team’s culture. Many companies have large workforce and large teams. Each team cannot get competitive with each other; rather they need to work together towards a common goal.
Collaboration also allows for people of different background to come together and share their experience. Over the years, I have been involved in variety of teams. I was part of a team where you feel inclusive, comfortable expressing your opinion, brainstorming to come up with good ideas. Even activities with co-workers outside of work place feel comfortable and I have tried water skiing something I had never done before. However, there are teams where you feel disconnected and not included and just going out for a team lunch feels awkward.
The review process in most companies actually promotes competition between peers rather than collaboration. Many companies end up rewarding managers and employees who compete with each other. This sets a wrong precedent and promotes unwanted behavior. I have seen managers/employees take credit for others’ work and peers being at war. Managers even are competitive with their own employees.
Collaboration is most important in companies going global. Being in India for a few years now and have always been considered an underdog to other more experienced geographical locations. If the more experienced teams start competing and not collaborating with the underdogs, the new teams will never grow. Studies have shown that it is more beneficial for companies having multiple development centers across the globe. It is not only for cost benefit but also because the markets are shifting.
I believe collaboration is a culture that has to be nurtured and even pushed by leadership. It may not come naturally. Collaboration requires team work, mutual respect and trust amongst the team members. It is up to the leader to set a collaborative culture in the team. A few things that the leader can do are: Set a common goal which compels the team to work together; Set up clear roles and responsibilities; Reward employees who help their peers and who truly collaborate.
Even companies are getting together to collaborate on standards. Open source development promotes collaboration across developers around the world. We have Wikipedia – a source for information, a collaborative effort to organize information. The Information technology world is moving towards collaboration. Can we afford to have non-collaborative teams within the company in these modern days?
A collaborative team is a happy family and “Happy Family is but an earlier Heaven” according to George Bernard Shaw. I want to be part of a happy team and a happy family. Don’t we all?

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Technology - A vehicle for work-life balance

With companies going global, it is almost unrealistic to expect teams to be at the same site or in the same time zone.  I moved to India over 8 years ago and since then my project teams have been spread across the world.  This also means that there are more co-ordination meetings at odd times. Work is no more a 9am to 5pm job. There is really no separation between office hours and time for life outside of work. So how do we balance work and life?

For about 6 months I have had 8:30pm to 9:00pm meetings every night. I have had to co-ordinate projects across 3 time zones. It has been a balancing act during the weekends to ensure that I attend these meetings and also be there for my family, be it a birthday party, Friday night family dinner, a music concert with my spouse or an outing with my friends.

One weekend we decided to visit family who live a few hours away from us. We needed to drive on a Friday evening so that we could spend the weekend with them. But I have a regular 8:30pm to 9:00pm meeting which I have to run. I took this meeting on the highway with Internet and global conference call connectivity. I was able to run the meeting effectively and nobody on the call realized that I was on the road. I enjoyed the rest of the weekend with family.

A month ago, we had a software release which had already been running late. A couple of bug fixes needed to be made and post that the software had to go through Quality Assurance and then released with proper notification to all stake holders. My job was to co-ordinate between the various teams, ensure all work was done and approve the release on a Saturday night. As most typical projects, this did not happen on time during the day and was postponed to the evening. I had already bought tickets and was looking forward to a music concert with my friends. On most days, I would have chosen to stay with the team and follow up on the project but this time, I chose to go along with my friends and still follow up on the project. Thanks to my Blackberry, I was in touch with the team and was able to effectively make a decision for the release with SMS, Chat, emails and phone calls. While it took time away from the concert I was still able to enjoy 95% of the concert. I would rather enjoy 95% of a concert than missing it completely.

While I generally advocate working on one specific thing at a time and giving it your full attention, these exceptions have helped me be around family for the fun stuff. I have participated in meetings in hotel lobbies, restaurant parking lots, stairwells outside movie theatres and while driving my kid and his friends from a birthday party. We did not have chat software, messenger communications, SMS, mobile phones and mobile Internet connectivity technology about 2 decades ago and it is simply great that all these innovations have come up in the recent years. I also need to thank my industry for accepting all these innovations as part of regular work.

Most people believe issues with work life balance is for women only. I disagree. Work life balance is required for everyone - men, women and children. One has to have a good balance to be productive at work, to enjoy life and to keep good health.

As I have thought about it some more, I am amazed at the technology we have today that helps us make our life so much better. It has helped me merge my work life and life outside of work so well. One also has to make sure that these technologies do not get in the way of quality time with family and friends. You always have the option of turning off or ignoring these gadgets at your will. And where there is a will there is a way – a will to balance between work and home.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Living on the Jagged Edge!

"Indecision becomes decision with time". Instead of taking control of the situation, sometimes we let the situation take control of us.  Decision making  - an essential leadership skill - is identifying and choosing alternatives based on the needs and demands of a given situation. Timely, well considered decisions can lead the team to success.

Decision making is part of every ones life. On a daily basis, we make decisions on what time we get up to what we eat. We consciously make some of the decisions , some we let others make a decision for us and some we let the situation make the decision for us. When we have people depending on us, when we are in a position of control such as being a parent, being a professional where company depends on you, you cannot always let the situation control you. While Decision Making is a complete science of its own, I have found the “Jagged Edge” decision making technique very useful. This was taught to me informally by my senior manager about 10 years ago and has always come in handy while making decisions. I fondly named it the “Jagged Edge” decision making technique.

Decision making does not necessarily need for the decision maker (DM) to be an expert in the domain. You need to be able to ask the right questions and be able to judge the people giving the answers. The decision maker needs to evaluate all the information he/she has and base the decision on it. DMs typically fail because they do not choose the right advisers, or don’t listen to them when they should.
If you are working on cutting edge technology, most times all the data necessary to make the decision is not available. Consider the following graph, where an activity A has to be completed. It would take an estimated duration of T and effort E if done in absolutely the most efficient way. But typical projects would take the jagged route shown in the graph. At the point O, the DM would not have all the information necessary, but makes a decision to follow the path OC. If all the data was available to the DM, the decision would have been OB – the most efficient way. The DM has to keep in mind that he/she didn’t have all the data and is taking some risks. The risks have to be well understood, documented and have a time line to reevaluate. The team starts working along the path OC, when the trigger for the risk time line is up (at C), the DM reevaluates the decision and needs to readjust to CD and DF and sets a checkpoint at F.

Assume at point O, the DM didn’t make a decision because all the data is not available. No progress would have been made. But instead the team was able to make progress towards their goal of activity A. There was some wasted effort but large percentage was towards activity A. Seasoned leaders make quick decisions and re-planning such that the jagged edges look smoother. Sometimes, the teams under such leaders don’t even feel the readjustments.
You need to be aware that the decision is not taking the team in a completely different direction and eventually end up with 100% wasted work. Most times, with experience and Gut Feel, you will be able to drive the team in the right direction, if not the most efficient path.
Some things overlooked by DMs are to not set a trigger point based on the availability of next set of data, not understand the risks due to non-availability of data, and to re-evaluate at the trigger point. Another important item often overlooked in implementation is the need for buy in from the implementers. There is a need to not only explaining the benefits but to also explain the risks and drawbacks involved. Implementers will only support your decision if they understand both the risks and benefits and DMs commitment towards the decision.
Going back to the blog starting point - "Indecision becomes decision with time" - don't let the situation take control of you, take control of the situation. Even with lack of complete data you will be able to make progress most times.  If you delay the decision making, eventually the situation takes over and you are only left with very few alternatives.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Riding the High Waves

This month marks the completion of 21 years for me in the technology industry. What a wonderful ride it has been! I cannot think of any other industry that has gone through so many changes and innovation in the last two decades. 

The Brain Drain: In 1990, Indian-Americans were the 14th largest migrant population and numbered less than half-a-million and have grown to be the 2nd largest migrant population in the US. A large population has moved to US for post-secondary education making Indian-Americans the best educated minority group in US. Studies say that 1.6 million US citizens and permanent residents were Indian citizens at the time of birth. I am one of many who contributed to this statistic along with many of my peers and classmates from college  I was there when this happened...
I moved to US for my graduate studies and graduated during a recession post the first Gulf war. I was hired by one of the big computer companies out of college and was very thrilled to have landed a job. All my friends and classmates were also able to get a job even with the recession.
Little did I realize then it was the beginning of an era – an era of large population migration of computer engineers to the US, an era when the computer sales surged and the era of the internet – although internet was used earlier by the military and education institutions, it was suddenly made big by the business community 

The Dot Com Stock Market Boom: In the nineties, the usage of internet became more prevalent than ever. The period was marked by the founding of new Internet companies commonly referred to as dot coms. A combination of increasing stock prices, market confidence and available venture capital created this boom. Many startups were popping up everywhere and many companies were going public. Some of us, who didn’t know much about investing, became stars in the stock market. You invested in the stock market, you made money. Home prices surged in predominantly hi-tech areas (such as the Bay Area and Austin, etc.), the US economy grew and so did our salaries.  It was a great time for computer engineers with a very healthy job market, healthy paychecks  I was there again.

CPU Changes: Having been enamored by CPU architecture in college, I eagerly joined IBM's CPU design team. Along with the internet boom came the surge in sales of computers (desktops, servers, laptops) which changed the market for CPUs.
Compaq, DELL chose to build IBM PCs in the late eighties which made the already strong Win-Tel (Windows/MSFT-Intel) more stronger. To compete against Intel, Apple, IBM and Motorola (AIM)  formed a consortium in 1991 and the birth of PowerPC. This started the war of RISC versus the CISC. Originally intended for PCs, PowerPC CPUs have since become popular as embedded and high-performance processors.

In the server space, IBM dominated with their RISC for high end CPUs, which competed against the Alpha processors from DEC and PA-RISC from HP. HP partnered with Intel in 1994 to develop the IA-64 architecture. Industry analysts predicted that IA-64 would dominate in servers, workstations, and high-end desktops. Two decades later, the IA-64 has not met the expectations of the analysts.  

In 1990s and early 2000s, frequency was considered synonymous to performance. In 2000, AMD beat Intel to 1GHz mark. Intel had been a dominant leader of high performing CPUs and Intel stock went down. IBM was working on Power4 – a CPU for servers, internally code named GP (Giga Processor) which released in 2001. Power4 was the first processor with multiple cores in a single package and the war for the number of cores packed in a single package is still on going even after a decade.

Processors simply couldn’t push for frequency without managing the power consumption. A new metric for measuring performance was established – the power performance. Power performance measures the performance for a given Power consumption. With smart phones and tablets taking over the market,  power consumption is becoming more relevant than ever.

While working for three large computer companies, I am proud to say that I was there again and in the trenches – through the RISC versus CISC war, through the frequency war, through the power performance war and through the multi-core war.

Dot Com Bust: Late 1999 and early 2000 had multiple increases in interest rate and the US economy began to lose speed. The stock market crash of 2000–2002 caused the loss of $5 trillion. Many dot coms ran out of capital and were acquired or liquidated.  Sadly, many companies misreported finances and/or misused shareholders' money and their executives were rightly convicted of fraud. Enjoying the success of investing in the early nineties, many people continued to heavily invest in technology stocks. Many of them took a huge loss during the bust  I was there again but I wish I wasn't...

The India IT industry growth: Starting at around the same time, the Emerging Markets was going through a boom. In early 2000s, about 35,000 Indians returned to India from the United States. Being closer to family, the prospect of job opportunities and exposing our kids to Indian culture was very appealing. My family decided to move to Bangalore – the IT hub of India. Many companies were expanding to India and I was able to take a transfer through my company. There was even an article about my family moving to India in a US Newspaper. Again, we saw the housing prices go up in Bangalore, IT salaries increase and the number of jobs increase in services, software and hardware product companies.
My own CPU world also expanded with Intel, ARM, AMD, and IBM having set up shop in India. It was not easy to start a CPU team in India and after some failures, Intel released a couple of CPUs which were designed and validated in India and I am proud to say I was there again.

I am excited to be part of this generation who has ridden the high wave not once but twice. Many of us have seen good financial and career success during these years. But what I would like to measure our generation is the legacy we leave behind. What are the technological, cultural, educational values we are leaving behind for the upcoming next generation of engineers? We still have time to do something about it.

I also wonder what wave I am going to be riding in the next twenty years. A dream where there are  pervasive computers, wearable computers, technology in medical areas solving the world's problems, visualization such as 3D, virtual reality, big data problems solved with innovative networking and storage solutions, semi-conductor fabs and market growth in India, content easily ported across all platforms and forms, computers in homes across the world and information revolution, growth of women in technology... And being able to say to my grandkids that I was there too.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Bevu-Bella: Bitter and Sweet

Many regions in India celebrate the New Year in the March-April timeframe. It is called Ugadi – literally meaning the beginning of age. It is customary to eat a traditional mixture called “Bevu-Bella” during this festival. Bevu-Bella literally translates to Neem and Jaggery. Neem is very bitter and Jaggery is sweet.  This mixture symbolizes the fact that life is a mixture of bitter and Sweet. In fact, one asks for a good mix of the good and the bad, sweet and the bitter in the coming year.

New Year is a happy occasion – isn’t it? So, why would people look for bitterness? Why not ask for only sweetness? Why shouldn’t life be just all good? As I gave it more thought, I believe that you need to have some difficulties only then will you appreciate the sweetness more. 

I can think of many examples in my recent past:  I have had a minor surgery and haven’t been feeling well for the last 2 months. It is now that I realize how health is so important. I used to enjoy my Badminton game with my family on weekday nights. Due to poor health I haven’t played for a while and the whole family is missing it. I realized through this down time how much I have missed it and how much fun it has been for the  whole family. Sadly, I also realized that the family badminton days are limited since we will soon have to send our child away to college. I plan to get back to it as soon as I recover and make the best use of time while he is still at home.

When you want something in life and you eventually achieve or get it with a lot of hard work, it is a great feeling. It feels so good and you know it was worth the wait.While the hard work is not exactly bitterness, it isn’t sweet either. I do not think you will able to appreciate the wins as much if it came too easily.

In Steve Jobs' famous speech at Stanford, he mentions that being fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to him. He says, "It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick." He eventually made it back to Apple and took it through the second high wave.  I had been working in a company for many years. I was very content with my job and wouldn’t have looked for anything better. I was very disappointed when I needed to quit that role  but it made me realize how much I love what I do and that the possibilities are endless post that.

Yes. You do need the bitterness in life also – to introspect, to look out for the possibilities, to push yourself. As for the sweetness in my life, I have plenty of it.

Happy Ugadi!!! May this year bring you health, wealth, happiness and some bitterness too!

Related Links:

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Top 5 Reasons Why We Don’t Retain Women in the Technology Industry

I was at an annual spelling bee contest held in Bangalore. There were almost 1000 participants at the spelling bee – all of them short-listed students from various schools across the city. My son was one of the short listed students from his school and I was one of the many proud parents in the audience. When the top 10 finalists (the top 1%) were announced, I was pleasantly surprised to see that 9 were girls.

I recently attended a parent teacher meeting at my son’s school. There were many girls from my son’s class helping the parents and teachers through the process. I got to talking to the teacher later and asked her why none of the boys were among the helpers. She told me that only the girls volunteered and none of the boys had.

So, at a young age, girls are competitive and signing up for opportunities. Why is then we don’t hire equal number of women at work? Why is that of the fewer women who do join work, quit mid-way? Why are there hardly any women in senior positions? How do companies claim they have the best work force when they have neglected to hire and retain from 51% of the world’s population? Can we really afford to ignore this disparity in the workforce?

Most women who enter and remain in the IT industry do so in tough conditions. Many a time these situations are culturally biased.

Cultural Stereotypes: When I graduated out of school, I was not short listed for a job interview for a position with one of the big companies. I happened to talk to a recruiter on why I was not short listed since I was one of the top students in the class. He told me that if he hired a female and needed to send them on a business trip, he would need to spend on a companion whereas a male hire could travel by himself. At the age of 21, I had travelled to US from India 4 times and 3 of them were by just by myself. The recruiter never asked me about my travel experience and I never told him.  For a 21-year old that was looking to join the corporate world, this was a huge shock. This is an example of the cultural stereotypes I have had to fight against throughout my career.  Women have to learn to have a thick skin and not quit work due to such attitudes.

Married Women Syndrome: Another widespread assumption is that women cannot fully participate at work. Many a time, women are not considered for top opportunities because they have to take care of the family. Most times, women have to prove and explain to their seniors on how they can do the job even with their family obligation. In fact, women have to spend more energy convincing that they can do the job even with their family obligations than convincing about their skill-set and capability.  Sometimes these women are explaining this to their male boss who has younger children and has more family obligations.

The worst part is that many women also do not believe that they can take up the top jobs. What hurts women most is what I call the “Married Women Syndrome”. They do not push themselves during the early years. They end up doing non interesting work and then get bored. Married women usually have a husband who is bringing in the salary for a living. They have kids at home – a kid who looks up to his Mama and thinks the world of her.  She is faced with the situation where her boss is not so supportive, kid looks up to her and thinks the world of her, a job that is not so interesting and she really does not need the money to make a living. Given this situation, choice seems easy – women quit work. Instead, women in these positions can take those opportunities that their male counterparts deem too risky to take. These risky opportunities come with huge rewards and also make the job interesting.

I had a female manager who was reporting to me and I believed she had potential. The team was not readily accepting her as a manager and I talked to her about few improvements that she had to work on. Her immediate response was that this job was not so important to her and she would want to quit. I was baffled by her response but asked her to think about it and that I would support her through these tough times. A year later she had been accepted by her team and she and her team are doing very well. We need our leaders to be supportive during the tough times.

Penetrating the Old Boys Club: The main issue of being a minority in any situation is that you are considered different from others. Since we have more men at work than women, women automatically become the black sheep. Very few women are able to penetrate the old boys club. This excludes women from the informal networks (either at coffee or after work while playing tennis, etc.). Many discussions and subsequently decisions are made during these informal meetings and they help in enhancing skills, getting insights into the politics and power balance inside the groups and organizations. So as a senior manager if you are taking a male employee out for an informal drink, make sure you would do the same with your female employee too. Also encourage the teams to be inclusive in their informal get togethers. Women do not bring up issues with their peers and managers until they are ready to quit because managers and managers' manager are perceived to be part of the old boys club.

Performance Measurement: Another stereotype that hurts women is the measurement of their performance. Women are rated lower, leading to lower promotions and lower salary. Performance metrics are set by senior management – mostly men.  We do not create a work environment that enables people to be measured and promoted by performance but base it on whether they walk the walk and talk the talk like their senior management.

While communicating a decision and getting a buy in from the team, I usually go and explain the problems, issues and reasons that led to the decision first. I let my team ask their questions and arrive at the same conclusion so they are part of the decision too. While I don't have consensus-based decisions always, I try to do it most times. My male counterpart would probably go with the attitude of "I know best and this is what needs to be followed." Both work, both are effective in different circumstances but the senior leader needs to understand that both methods are effective.

One of the companies tracks indicators of women performance ratings. Every year the performance rating of women is lower than their male counterparts. This is meant to help women, but the ratings are tweaked each year after the performance review, that hurts the credibility of legitimately high performing women. Drawing a design analogy,  you put a design together to meet the performance goals.  You measure the performance at the end to verify. If the performance goals are not met, you do not tweak the indicator that shows the performance but instead you tweak the design!

Support and Sponsors: Lack of support from senior management is another reason for most women to drop out. Either the women do not realize the need for sponsors or the managers do not believe the need for women in the work place. Management cannot afford to ignore the lack of women in the work place. Companies cannot claim to have the best work force when their work force is from only half the world’s population. Somewhere amongst these women is an uncut diamond that would do wonders for the company.

It takes a change in mindset across companies, management, families and women employees themselves to nurture and grow women in the work place. We will slowly need to change the cultural bias. Women need to see more role models – women who are like them – to emulate and believe that they can strive for bigger roles.

Related Links:

Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders
Where are the Women in Information Technology?
The Tilted Playing Field: Hidden Bias in Information Technology Workplaces

Reference to this blog post in Kannada article in oneindia
Discussion on this article on "Anita Borg Institute for women and Technology"

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place?

Matrix Management is a style of management where an individual has two reporting superiors – one Functional and the other Operational. Matrix management brings in some interesting dynamics to the work place that you wouldn’t see in the traditional organization where each person reports to one boss. With many companies going global, matrix management is more prevalent these days.
I would like to define the 2 terms for the purposes of this blog:
Functional/Line manager is a person who directly manages employees and is responsible for the administrative management of the individual as well as the functional management.  They control the compensation and evaluation of the employee. They also control the vision, strategic goals of the team.
Project/Operational managers, are responsible for directing the work of employees, but are not responsible for the administrative management of those individuals. They do not discipline the employee, promote/demote them, do salary adjustments, etc. but have inputs
Matrix Management works very well at senior levels where the Functional,Operational and their senior manager are all in synch with the same Vision, Goals and Project priorities for the team. Having been both a manager and an employee in matrix organizations, I have seen interesting, Complex Dynamic Scenarios in the work place when it is not set up right.
Think of the individual in a matrix organization whose two bosses cannot get along with each other. The two managers could push and pull the employee in different directions and make the employee work life very difficult. In such a situation, the employee can align with:
a)      The Functional manager
b)      The Project manager
c)      Do the right thing for the company and team and not align with anybody for the sake of aligning
d)      Try to align with (or appear to) both of them
e)      Take advantage of the 2 bosses and not get any work done!

Typically the Functional manager controls the compensation and evaluation of the employee. The employee can align with the Functional manager but tactically he/she has to spend most of the time working with the Project manager. Day to day activities could become a problem as the Project manager might not be supportive. The Functional manager is not aware of the employee’s accomplishments unless the manager puts in extra effort to understand and evaluate the accomplishments of the employee. Most of the time, due to the lack of good working relationship between the 2 bosses, the evaluation will be incorrect.
If the employee aligns with the Project manager, day to day activities will work fine. Since the Project manager is not responsible for the long term interests of the employee, they will not ensure that the employee morale, career aspirations are met. The Functional manager may not like the employee working well with the Project manager and could retaliate.
Employee can go about doing the right thing for the team, project and company and choose not to align with either of the bosses. But when it comes to time for promotion and bigger responsibilities, both the managers may not be supportive of the employee. They would rather support someone who is aligned to them.
The employee can try to align with both the bosses one for strategic decisions and one for tactical decision. I would think this situation could be compared to a kid with divorced parents who are pulling the kid in different directions. I believe this is not a long term solution either.
The worst case is where an employee takes advantage of the situation and does not get any work done. This is bad for the company and for everyone around.
Senior manager to both the bosses – who is responsible for the matrix organization, needs to be very aware of the dynamics and ensure that the team is fine even with the conflict between the two bosses.
The 2 bosses need to take the responsibility of ensuring that their differences do not hurt the employee or the team. The onus is on the managers, especially the Functional manager to make things right for their employee and this is the only right and ethical thing to do. But if such is not the case, I personally do not believe that any options that I have mentioned from an employee point of view will work in the long run. What do you think?

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Larger than Life Goals

As one of the benefits of working in large companies, I have had the opportunity to participate in Leadership Development and have come away with great insights in leadership and management. During one such leadership training, I came across the concept of BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal. It is about setting visionary goals that are both strategic and emotionally compelling.
In a previous role where I was leading a large team for a large company in India, we had the opportunity to build a Hardware Chip of greater complexity than anything we had worked on before. My peers across the globe had indicated to me that few teams were capable of delivering such a chip and I would require a lot of help. I also believed that we lacked the skills in the team in certain areas and we needed to build the capability – however, I was positive that we could deliver the product. It was around this time that I took the leadership training where I was profoundly influenced by BHAGs.
This Executive Education program shared many insights and real life examples of BHAGs. A BHAG has to be meaningful, visionary, emotionally connecting to the people and should unify the efforts of the team. It has to have an impact across the whole team and affect every member in the team. The vision was to build one of the best technical teams that not only builds a chip with minimal cost and time but also to be able to replicate the same results for all future programs. With this vision in mind, my BHAG was to deliver the chip - given the history and perception of the team - beating an already aggressive schedule with minimal cost. To meet the definition of a BHAG and to get the team energized, this goal had to be something better than any other team had delivered in the company.
A good slogan helps make the BHAG a part of the daily routine. In this case we took a goal of “shipping the FIRST chip (changed)”. In chip-design, there are 2 validation (or testing in software) phases. The first phase is during the design cycle, and work is done through simulation before manufacturing the actual silicon chip. The second phase is after you have the silicon chip in hand. The idea behind the BHAG was to find all bugs during the first phase so that one doesn’t have to re-manufacture for bug fixes after the first silicon thereby saving cost and time.
A good way to start a BHAG is to get your top 10 most engaged employees. I went over my insights from the class and what I envisioned the team to be in a couple of years. We then came up with the goal of “shipping the FIRST chip” and identified 6-7 concrete items that would define the finish line. We ensured that every team member could relate to it. I then went to the next set of 20 people and went over the vision and the BHAG.  This set the momentum going. In a month the whole team was talking about and believing in “shipping the FIRST chip”.
Daily actions and decisions need to have this goal in mind. Every schedule, every milestone definition, every status tracking meeting was done with this goal in mind. This is where I have seen many leaders fail. They are excited to set the BHAG but do not follow up or follow through. You have got to eat, drink, breathe and live the BHAG every day. The team needs to feel it on a daily basis.
Three years later, we achieved the BHAG of “shipping the FIRST chip!” I am very proud of the BHAG that I set. While it took us three years to fully realize it, at the end it had given a definite sense of purpose and meaning to the team. Along the way I had found a greater meaning to my work, people, career and the industry.