Recession proofing your business – Going beyond Cost cutting : Feature Article; V2 Issue3

There is a dip in profits. Budgets are getting smaller. Company stock prices have plummeted. Recruitments are slowing down. Demand for goods and services are falling. Are we or are we not in a recession? While the debate is still on, business managers cannot afford to simply wait doing nothing. It’s prudent to start taking appropriate measures to recession proof your business at the earliest. Use this time to become a leaner, more cost-effective and more efficient operation.

Recession proofing your business must start with remaining a cost effective enterprise through the current downturn.  I am sure your company must be already on to cost management measures like conserving cash, minimizing inventories, monitoring cash flow, making purchases wisely etc. While it is important to manage your costs it is equally important to manage other areas of your business to outsmart your competitors in times like this. Let’s look at what you as a manager can do.

Beyond managing costs
Needless to say you must do all you can to effectively implement in the department, unit or team you are managing, the cost management plans developed by your finance team. But look beyond that to manage recession.

  • Adapt quickly: This is an obvious one. When conditions change you can survive only if you adapt to them. Review the area of business you are managing and see how you need to adapt it to it, not only to combat problems but also seize opportunities. You may have to modify your selling strategy or change your employee engagement plans or take a re-look at your sourcing channels.

  • Stick to your long-term vision: Your long term vision tells you the reason for your business’ or department’s existence. Reconnecting to that vision will help you stick to your long-term approach and keep you going even though you are tempted to adopt short term measures.

  • Sharpen focus on business plan: Your team will look to you for company, department or team priorities. A clear business plan, an appropriate team structure, streamlined processes, the right performance measures, accountability system and rewards are extremely important in times of uncertainty. Make adjustments to how you recognize people during these times. You need everyone to be focused on revenues and costs.

  • Get aggressive in the marketplace: Continue actively selling and marketing your product or service. Consider adding a salesperson or even an additional service to give you an edge over competition. Being in front of customers or vendors builds confidence that you are a long term player. You can gain market share from competitors unable to adjust to shifting market conditions. Similarly don’t stop recruiting altogether. Ensure company presence in the recruitment market by continuing recruiting. You would want to retain recall of your company among your prospective employees.

  • Provide quality service/products: The buying power or willingness to spend is lessened during tough economic times. So to build your customer base and induce current customers to raise revenues, it is importance to provide good service/product. Don’t compromise on service or product quality especially by being understaffed. Instead of hiring full time employees, explore other options like freelancers, consultants and part-time employees. This holds true for not only external customers, but also internal ones.

  • Keep your people engaged: Your most valuable assets are your team members and to get the best of them, you need to keep them engaged. Anxiety levels among them can be high in tough times. So make sure they understand that you are building a lasting and successful enterprise and that some of the cost cutting measures, including layoffs, are necessary for the health of the company. Make your people part of the solution by involving them in initiatives related to cost cutting etc. Avoid widespread cost cutting and layoffs that can undermine employee morale. Disengaged employees can weaken competitive position, endanger future profits and increase turnover inducing star performers to leave. And this is definitely a time when you need your stars to help you figure out things.

  • Train your team members: While you may think it is wise to cut down training expenses, experts say this is a good time to invest in training especially on-the-job and cross training. This will also engage employees and help you get ready to take on the market when conditions improve.

  • Improve productivity: Monitor and improve productivity levels. Get more out of your team by helping them focus on the right deliverables. Use technologies that enable you to eliminate inefficiencies and reduce costs.

  • Maintain strong relationships: While maintaining good relationships is important at all times, during a slowdown one may forget to do so. Don’t!

    • Customers –Did you know the costs of acquiring new customers are up to five times those of maintaining and selling to existing customers? Hence allocate resources to strengthen relationships with your best customers. Being close to them will also alert you incase competition is trying to acquire them as their customers.

    • Suppliers – Even though you may shop for cheaper sources of raw material etc, do not cut off all relationships with existing suppliers. Let them still fulfill part of your need. You do not want to antagonize them since you never know who you may need in future.

    • Banks – Banks are looking for business to boost their income, but are also trying to minimize risk. They are careful about what kind of loans they give. Assure them of your financial position so that they give you an ‘over draft’ facility when required etc. However, seeking additional credit during a recession is not advisable.

  • Be prepared for economic recovery: During the 1990 -1991 recession, Dell perfected its demand-pull production system, and Intel launched its “Intel Inside” branding campaign. Both companies emerged as stronger competitors and grabbed the largest share of profits in their industries over the following years. If you have viable business idea, invest in it, maybe conservatively, but do invest. This is the time to look out for talent, physical assets that were not available to you earlier. A friend of mine working in a financial company tells me every second day he gets a CV of a talented financial professional. This was unheard of in the past.
  • Think long term:  In every aspect of the business think long term. For instance though every rupee saved is a rupee earned, you should be careful while cost cutting. Very often we tend to focus on immediate, piece-meal remedies and ignore the long-term implications. But wise cost management is not only about reducing short-term costs but also achieving lasting competitive advantage. Your business must incur costs to remain competitive - costs of attracting and retaining talent, costs of research and development, costs of building your company’s brand and maintaining company infrastructure.

Doing things differently, some examples….
If you thought cost cutting, reducing reliance on financial sectors or US markets and layoffs are the only measures being undertaken by companies, you are wrong. This is a time to think afresh and get creative on running a business. Check out what some companies are doing or have done differently to manage recession.


Of course what may work for other companies may not work for your company. Figure out what does. What is important is that you take a holistic approach and manage all aspects of business effectively. That way your company will be better positioned to do well when the economic conditions improve or you may just find for example that when business picks up you have client orders, but no talented employees left to execute them. Also remember the lessons learnt during recession. They can be valuable to you even in good times. All the best!



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Understanding & Managing Generation Y: Feature Article; V2 Issue 2

Understanding and Managing Generation Y

Shubham listens to his ipod and leaves messages for his friends in orkut… all this while he is working at home on his office project. Jagjith who says exactly what he feels about making improvements in the workplace also likes to collaborate with his peers online to find solutions to the technical problems in his project.  Raina attends yoga classes in the mornings. After work in the evenings she volunteers for an NGO. During weekends she treks extensively. Meet the Generation Y! Who are they? Let’s find out!

Who is Generation Y and why should you want to manage them?

Generation Y are those born between 1980 and 2000. They are even called the Millennial Generation, the Internet Generation, the Nintendo Generation, the Digital Generation and the Sunshine Generation. They are the children of active, involved parents and the younger siblings of Gen Xers ie., a generation born from the mid1960s to the late 1970s. With penpals across the world, the first generation to grow up surrounded by digital media, they see things as global, connected, and of course open for business 24/7.  And what is important for you is that today they are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce. You would be recruiting them from campus. You would be finding replacements for them when they leave your company to join another one. You would be working with them. You need to manage them. And so, you need to know more about them!

Characteristics of Generations Y

Even if you don’t identify them by their age, Generation Y is not very difficult to spot because of the following characteristics which define them:-
1. Confidence: Having been raised by parents believing in the importance of self-esteem, they ooze confidence. Confidence in the way they speak out about issues that bother them, confidence in the way they carry themselves and confidence to tackle any challenge!

2. High expectations from self: They expect to achieve great things and solve problems nobody has solved and do more work, better and faster than anybody else. Sounds familiar?

3. High expectations from others: They also have high expectations from you - their employers and managers. Expectation that you will know their needs, help them succeed and reward them accordingly. They expect you to be honest and direct and fair and highly engaged in every step of their professional development.

4. Optimism: They believe in a bright future which has a special place for them as well. They expect a workplace with all the good things - challenge, collaboration, creativity, fun, and financial rewards. Why do you think they came to work for you?

5. Goal and achievement orientation: They like setting goals, striving for them and achieving them. So don’t be surprised if they arrive first day of work armed with personal goals already defined.

6. Inclusiveness: They are used to being organized in teams and don’t like leaving behind anybody. Workplace diversity is expected by them. They will not hesitate to use their collective power if they feel someone is treated unfairly. 

7. Love for change: Generation Yers don't expect to be doing the same thing tomorrow and day after. Multitasking comes naturally to them. They can juggle between checking e-mail on their Blackberries, talking on cell phones and surfing on the net.

8. Financial smartness: After witnessing the financial insecurity of earlier generations faced by layoffs and the dot-com bust, today's youngest workers are generally quite savvy about money and savings.

9. Need for work life balance: Unlike the earlier generation for whom career tends to come first, generation Yers are more interested in making their jobs accommodate their family and personal lives. They want jobs with flexibility - telecommuting options, part time or long leaves when children or elders need be taken care etc.

10. Sense of civic duty: They believe in doing things for the greater good. They often volunteer for community services. Naturally they expect companies also to contribute to their communities and have environment friendly operations.

11. Total comfort with technology: Having grown up with online social lives, classrooms and entertainment, the virtual world feels to them like a natural extension of their personal experiences. For them, meeting and interacting online is just as comfortable as face-to-face meetings.


By now can you see the behavior patterns among your team members who belong to the generation Y? Now given this unique pattern of behavior would you say the current ways of managing people would work with this generation? Perhaps not!

Managing Generation Y

Here are some of the things which will work with them.

1. As a boss I’ll be pleasant and easy to get along with: The number one rule for managing this highly sociable generation is for you to be sociable with them. Plain business talk with no chitchats will not do.

2. I’ll be your role model:  Having grown up with structure and supervision, with parents who were role models they are looking for role models at work too. This generation is looking for leaders with honesty and integrity. So 'parent' them in ways that will inspire them to utilise their strengths but also manage their weaknesses and set boundaries.

3. You can work with your friends: Generation Y want to work with people they connect with. They like being friends with their colleagues. Did you know some companies are even interviewing and hiring groups of friends because of this? Review them as a group; they enjoy collaborating and being rewarded for the same.

4. I’ll give you challenges: For a breed looking for challenges and lots of learning opportunities this is a statement they would welcome! Give them problems to solve and obstacles to overcome.

5. Here is what you need to do, I am flexible on how you want to do it: With their varied activities, Generation Y expects work to fit into the rest of their life. They don’t believe in face time. Once they are done with their work they will leave office (wow the focus is on output rather than just input!) In order to get the best out of the busiest generation ever it is essential you don’t bind them to a rigid 9 am to 6 pm schedule. Let them work anytime and anywhere while meeting their goals. Also get creative in providing the work/life balance that they crave by offering perks, such as a month sabbatical after some years of service. This offers them time to volunteer for NGOs or pursue a hobby.

6. I’ll be direct with you: Adapt your communication style for them. Gen Y employees speak a different language. They typically respond to humor, passion and the truth. Don’t beat around the bush with this set.

And here are some of the things that won’t work with them.

1. There is nothing much happening now, so chill: Just say this the day they join and they’ll walk out on you right then. Remember they want to start achieving from day 1. Be ready with a task or responsibility no matter how small that you can give the new joinee almost immediately.

2. You are too young to have ideas: Just because they have not been around a long time does not mean you don’t treat their ideas with respect. Don’t be surprised and overwhelmed with the articulate Generation Y’s forthrightness. Don’t try to discount their ideas for lack of experience (they do think outside the box) or throw a wet blanket on their enthusiasm. While an open door policy works well with them, to ensure your work does not get derailed often, tell them to bring you well researched ideas and specific questions.

3. Finish developing this product in 6 months time: This is as good as saying I want to lose your commitment. Gen Yers thrive on small goals with short deadlines so they can build up ownership of tasks. So you better break that project down into smaller pieces. Give them one new task at a time. And please change the type of projects they do every now and then.

4. I’ll give you feedback once in two years: Oh oh this is a sure way to lose them. Gen Y employees want frequent, direct and specific feedback and encouragement. They want their bosses to talk to them regularly just the way their parents did. Even if this means changing your performance appraisal system it is worth it. They become more confident, productive, and willing to use their creative talents when they see that their work is appreciated and receive feedback on how to achieve more.

5. I’ll reward you with just higher compensation: Compensating Gen Y cannot be solely about money. They are seeking training, new challenges, expansion of their capabilities and as a result, advancement to new, more highly compensated roles.


Pampered? Over indulged? Call the Generation Y what you want but you can’t do without this talented generation who are not only your colleagues but are also increasingly your customers and key influencers. Don’t feel threatened by their technical know how. Learn from them instead. Don’t treat them as your enemies but your allies in getting ahead in this increasingly competitive word. For instance considering that they are a generation comfortable with working remotely, leveraging technology and virtual relationships, Gen Y can help you meet your need for global teamwork and flexible work hours.

Come to think of it, creating a better workplace for the generation Y can mean a better workplace for all generations. The earlier generations had just not demanded and expected it like this recent generation does. And the result can be highly desirable - a set of engaged and motivated employees!


  1. Raines,C, “Managing Millennials”, 2002,
  2. “Managing Generation Y as They Change the Workforce”, Business Wire, Jan 8, 2008
  3. Tulgan ,B,“'tis the Season... to hire Generation Y.”,'tis_the_Season..._to_hire_Generation_Y._.html.
  4. Sue M.P, “Managing Gen Y effectively: the six keys to lead, and motivate Millennial´s to peak performance”, June 05, 2008,
  5. Armour, S, “Generation Y: They've arrived at work with a new attitude”, USA TODAY
  6. Malini Goyal and Jacob Cherian , “Is Gen-Y taking over the boardroom?”, 11 Aug, 2006,TNN,

Are You “Really” Planning Your Career? : Feature Article; V2 Issue1

By Vasanthi Srinivasan

Professor Vasanthi Srinivasan is an Associate Professor in the area of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources Management at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. She is an Executive Committee Member of the International Society of Business, Economics and Ethics (ISBEE) and is on the Board of Directors of a few international not-for profit social and non-governmental organizations. Her areas of interest are Career Management, leadership development and HR Management in the International Context. Her consulting work has been in the areas of building capability of HR professionals, performance management and leadership development.She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations from XLRI Jamshedpur, and a Fellow in Management from IIM Bangalore.

Many young people acquire degrees because they are expected to. However, very few are clear as to how those degrees tie in to their careers and how their careers enmesh with their lives. This is an insight I gained in the last academic year, while teaching the course titled “Managing your careers and growth” for the MBA students at IIM Bangalore. It was further substantiated by my interactions with participants of Leadership Development Programs for organizations. During the coaching discussions centered on their Individual Development Plans (IDP), participants reflect on their life and career journey, their dreams, aspirations, capabilities, expectations and definitions of success.  I find that many of the young high potential managers have strong achievement motivation ensuring their success in whatever they do. Most of the time, their roles in organizations are determined only by organizational needs and their high achievement orientation ensures they achieve success in their assigned roles. It is only when they have spent about 18 years at work do they ask “Is this what I want to do?” By then, given their life stage, with EMI payments on homes, children going to expensive schools and a certain life style, it becomes difficult to make significant career decisions. Many find it difficult to visualize their career growth beyond wanting to become a CEO before they turn 40. When I ask them “After that what?” most of them flounder. It suddenly hits them that they have another 25 years of healthy working life ahead of them.


What does career management mean for individuals today?
Over the last few years, I have been studying career transitions – of my students, of women IT professionals and technology professionals.  Based on my understanding of what is emerging, I’ll attempt to explore the changing definitions of career through four real life stories of individuals that are representative of a large number of individuals that we would have met in our lives. But they are special to me because I have known each one of them for at least a decade.

Story 1: Aakash passed out of a premier management institute in India in 1986 with specialization in HR and Systems. Prior to joining MBA, he did his bachelors degree in philosophy and music. Having had an offer from a blue chip company in the IT sector, he joined them in the systems function and spent the next 19 years in the same company. In 2005, he was promoted as the Head of a business. In 2006, he went part time for a year to give attention to his son who was finishing his school. His wife was a media professional. During this period, he enrolled in an interior decoration course and began to pursue music in earnest. Since 2007, he has quit work and continues to devote full time to music. He often wonders why he took so long to make this decision. 

Story 2: Kalyan, an engineering graduate from a premier institute decided to join the precision engineering industry in 1982. In his career spanning 26 years, he has moved three organizations, each of them with increased responsibility and commensurate compensation. He is highly respected in the organization. But he now feels that after a 25 year career, he would like to give back to society. With both his children well settled, he is exploring the idea of a career in a ‘Not for profit’ organization or in academics. His questions today are: How does one become aware of these opportunities? What is the bridge available for those who want to make significant career transitions?

Story 3: Meghnath, passed out with a Bachelor’s degree in commerce in 2000. He joined a large multinational. In his first year, he was awarded the best performer. In 2002, another MNC starting operations in India offered him an 80% salary increase. He joined them. After spending 18 months with them, he realized that his former employer was a more progressive and a highly empowering company. Wanting to work in a company like that he joined a large Indian company with a formidable reputation.  With an excellent performance track record, he was promoted twice in 20 months. In 2007, another large MNC offered him the role of a Manager with significantly higher responsibility and salary. Though he chose to move to this new organization he is now is unclear as to where he is headed. His family would like him to settle down, but he believes that since he has changed his job recently, he cannot afford the “distraction”. One of his goals is to be the CEO of a company by the time he turns 35.

Story 4: Anita is a project manager in a large IT firm. She has been with the organization for years. She has been assigned good projects, has done two stints overseas, and is growing within the organization. She has bought a flat in Hyderabad. Overall she is happy with her job and the organization. However, her friends tell her that spending 8 years in one organization is not positive for her career. It signifies a lack of initiative and achievement. Having sent out her resume to some recruiters, she has been getting some calls. She is now confused.

With the four stories, above as the context I would like to introduce three interesting streams of thought.

1. What is a career?
Till a decade ago in India, the definition of career was a series of upward moves, with steadily increasing, income, status and power. Individuals also believed that there was only one occupation for which they were best suited. They made career choices when they were young, mostly irreversible.  Increasingly, these assumptions are being challenged.

D T Hall, a career expert, provides a more contemporary definition of career. “The sequence of a person’s work related activities and behaviours and associated attitudes, values and aspirations over the span of one’s life”. This definition is highly individual centered, considers work and non work as critical realms of life, does not imply success or failure and does not have organization as its focus. All the four stories narrated above fit into this definition.

2. What constitutes success or failure in a career?
Career theories define careers from two perspectives:-

  • External or objective: This examines and interprets the same career situation from the institutional or organisational point of view. The objective career is described in terms of designation, position, status, promotion, salary and perquisites.

  • Internal or subjective: This refers to the individual's own interpretation of his or her career situation. The subjective career is linked to internal matters, such as personal meanings and identity. Often people use adjectives such as satisfaction, accomplishment, contribution, achievement and growth to describe subjective careers.

Thus objective careers are tangible, visible to others and comparable. In contrast, subjective career success is in the eye of the beholder; it creates value to self and the individual and is highly perceptual. Therefore, comparability is almost impossible. The critical question each one of us has to ask is “What would career success look like to me?”

3. How do individuals identify their careers?
Career choices are a function of individual interests, capabilities, aptitudes, skills and values. Unless individuals explore these personality elements it is unlikely that they would be able to work towards their potential. It is possible to identify the career/s best suited for oneself through deep career exploration. The definition of subjective career success is one element of career exploration. However, the definition of subjective career success would occur for individuals at different stages in their life. For some it could come as early as the first job. For others, it would evolve over time as they explore multiple careers and know what they don’t want. Interestingly while a large number of people maybe at an identical stage on objective career success; it is the subjective career success which is the differentiator.

With this understanding if we now examine the four stories, we can clearly see that all the individuals were highly successful from an objective career perspective. But it was the subjective career success that Aakash found, Kalyan is in the process of finding and both Meghnath and Anita are searching for.  Is subjective career success a function of life stage? Did Aakash and Kalyan find it because they were chronologically older? Not really. There are a lot of older people in the workforce who may not have sought subjective career success, because it is impossible for them to think of doing so. Similarly, there are a lot of younger individuals who have found subjective career success, even though they may not have attained objective career success. A number of young start up entrepreneurs fall in this category.  


Managing subjective career success
India has witnessed an economic boom in the last two decades. This has meant that some sections of the society, especially people like you and me are in an era of abundance. There are plenty of jobs if you are competent. Therefore, many of us can exercise choices. Similarly, with loans becoming affordable, most of us are likely to own properties at a much earlier age compared to our parents. With fairly high salaries, our financial planning is quite robust. In such a context, more professionals are likely to and can financially afford to seek subjective career success. The subjective career success could emerge from any sphere – creating something new, making music, teaching at a primary school, volunteering at an NGO, building a new marketing program or selling a new design. Are we looking for meaning? Many people talk about their “calling” often referring to fundamental, profound, radical or transformational career changes that they have made. They are referring to the subjective career success which gives them meaning.

As a starting point to managing a career you can explore and examine five points:-

  • Are you happy and excited about what you do at work at least 300 days a year?
  • Does an inner voice keep telling you that may be you could do better at work/career?
  • If you were not doing your current job, what would you be doing?
  • Do the power, position, status and salary that you currently earn reflect who and what you are?
  • What is it that you will do when you are fifty or sixty years old that you are not doing today?

The above questions force us to reflect. Reflection is the starting point in the career journey. Reflection often results in insights. Deep insights lead to career exploration which in turn leads to subjective career success. I am not for a moment suggesting that you look at subjective career immediately. But do start exploring. And when you begin to think on these lines, there is increased scope to engage with your potential. After all, isn’t exploring the human potential the purpose of a human life!!!

Fostering Corporate Entrepreneurship : Feature Article; July'08

Understanding Corporate Entrepreneurship

Do you long for the spark, innovation, speed and risk taking that small entrepreneurial companies have and envy the passion people working in such firms display? Fostering Intrapreneurship is the key to achieving this in your own organization even if it is not in a start up phase. Intrapreneurship is all about retaining ideas / product innovations within your company. It is being able to create an environment where the idea generator does not feel the need to leave the company to take his idea to the market but finds the support systems within. And the company gets to share the benefits!

Gifford Pinchot III coined the phrase 'intrapreneurship' in 1985 to describe the marriage of an entrepreneurial spirit - complete with its fierce independence and lack of deference to established views and the strictures of conventional wisdom - with the resources of a large corporation.

 “They (corporate entrepreneurs) are always the dreamers who figure out how to turn an idea into reality.” - Pinchot

Entrapreneurship also known as Corporate entrepreneurship (CE), generally, refers to the development of new business ideas and opportunities within large and established corporations (Birkenshaw M.J. Scheepers, J. Hough and J.Z. Bloom 2003). And Entrepreneurship should not be confused with just incremental improvements - it is about a new idea, product, revenue stream or way of maximizing returns. In most cases, CE describes the total process whereby established enterprises act in innovative, risk taking and proactive ways (Zahra 1993; Dess, Lumpkin and McGee 1999; Bouchard 2001). But what prevents most individuals from bringing the entrepreneurial energy to their jobs?

What retards Corporate Entrepreneurship in large companies?
Primary factors in large organizations that discourage Corporate entrepreneurship are:-

  • Mindset of Senior Management who support sure success ideas only: The view that most of us share as analysts and problem-solvers runs counter to successful entrepreneurship. When demand for lots of data is made it kills the entrepreneurial spirit which relies more on instinct.
  • Cost of Failure: The costs of failure are too high and the rewards of success are too low. Failure is an unavoidable aspect of the Intrapreneurial process. But Intrapreneurs are not given the space in which to fail. The rewards for success are usually inadequate. Very few organisations provide rewards for Intrapreneurs that come close to the rewards available to their entrepreneurial counterparts.
  • Inertia: Inertia is caused by established implicit and explicit systems that no one is willing to change. Intrapreneurs are met with "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", and "changing it now would just take too much effort..." In fact many organizations use their existing systems to prove they already have the "right answer" effectively killing creativity.
  • Hierarchy: The deeper the hierarchy, harder it becomes to get permission for anything new. How long does it take to get the green light and obtain resources to implement a good idea born at the grass root level in your company? If the answer is long then it will be tough to foster intrapreneurship in such a culture. This is not to say that there should not be a business approval process, but that it should be efficient.
  • Complacency: A company that does not encourage its employees to reinvent themselves and their careers at regular intervals also faces the risk of complacency in thought and action among its employees.

So how can one get individuals to act in an entrepreneurial manner? Cultivating corporate entrepreneurs requires creating a corporate culture which encourages firm-level entrepreneurial orientation that is reflected by five dimensions: autonomy, competitive aggressiveness, proactiveness, innovativeness and risk-taking. Let’s look at the ways to create an intrapreneurial culture.

Be an “Intraprenuerial” Company
BP PLC a leader in the restructuring of the global oil and gas industry and a highly innovative, forward looking company has a management model that rests on four components that help guide and control entrepreneurial action.

In fact the four elements in the above model are well balanced in all companies that are successful at encouraging entrepreneurial behavior in their employees. 3M’s “15 Percent Rule,” which enables employees to spend 15 percent of their time on pet projects (space), encourages the use of cross-functional and cross-country teams (support), and still adheres rigorously to the broader growth objectives and values of the company (direction, boundaries). But when too much space, too little direction and support and too few boundaries are there it can lead to chaos. For instance having too few boundaries at Enron resulted in its demise. It was ultimately a failure of control and governance. At the organization level, lack of support typically results in business units doing their own thing duplicating efforts. For example at one point executives in Ericsson’s central research and development organization discovered five separate development teams in different countries all working on their version of a ‘screen phone’ — a telephone with a small TV screen for Internet access. Quickly steps were taken to bring these teams together and to encourage a more coordinated effort.

Here are some ways you can create space within your company for all those potential “entreprenuers” employed with you. Of course how you do it will depend on the kind of business you are into. Like Google not every company can afford to let all its employees spend a day in a week working on their pet projects.

Defining characteristic of entrepreneurs are confidence, optimism, and the perseverance to keep working toward the goal no matter what the odds. Your company needs to support this by providing the freedom to fail! A manager at Dow Chemical remained optimistic and determined that a new class of plastics would lead to important products for the company. His research in the area was killed twice because nobody else saw the possibilities. Thankfully the researcher never became discouraged. And, in time, it lead to plastic films that are resistant to oil and moisture, and today are used in the packaging of everything. In contrast Game designer Seamus Blackley who joined Microsoft in 1999 after a big project of his failed was able to develop his Xbox concept in relative freedom at Microsoft, and get credit for it.

Some amount of failure is inevitable when one is trying to achieve something new or different. Do not penalize such failures thus sending out the message that failure is not tolerated. Otherwise people will always play it safe. Many entrepreneurial careers are built on a succession of minor failures. As long as the idea was well thought of, well planned and well executed the failure should be viewed constructively. People learn to trust their leaders and the culture if interim setbacks are not politicized and used in unhealthy ways against them. Of course the company must encourage responsible and optimistic risk taking. There is no place for recklessness in CE and all initiatives should be backed by solid business cases. For intrapreneurship to work effectively, risk should be balanced with reward and opportunity with difficulty.

Allow challenging of status quo. It is essential to have rules and processes in every organization for order to prevail. But when we catch ourselves saying “we've never done it that way before" or “that's not how we do things here”, then we need to evaluate those rules to see whether they still serve the purpose of guiding the current business or are they restricting successful building of a new business. There is every chance that we may be citing a rule that may no longer be appropriate for the new situation. In fact it is even necessary, to sometimes break with past traditions and status quo and establish new precedents to respond to new opportunities. Disparate voices should not be squelched, but encouraged, and disruptive ideas should not be labeled troublemaking, but entrepreneurial.

Allocate adequate resources for entrepreneurial pursuits. If you want entrepreneurship to be part of the organization’s DNA, everyone should have access to the tools, training, shared techniques and resources to quickly bring their innovations to market. Leaders should demonstrate the willingness to listen to and recognise good ideas whenever and from whomever they arise. Do not classify ideas as good or bad based on the persons it come from. A culture with one set of rules for some and another set of rules for the rest of the employees will not work. Instead every person should have the opportunity to innovate while accepting responsibility for his/her choices. Company should provide financial, technical and motivational support to all good ideas that will help meet organization goals.

Adobe India, for instance, launched the incubation program under which, employees generate ideas which are then sifted through various channels and finally recommended by a committee for innovation. Once it’s approved, these ideas get the support from Adobe’s global expert pool for further development. Apart from initial funding of $1 million, the idea initiator also gets a 6-12 months window to work on it. If it succeeds, it’s scaled up and the person behind it ends up heading the entire project or venture. And has it been successful? Well, in three years time, the IT major’s Indian arm filed 60 patents and 25% of the patents filed by Adobe worldwide in 2007 came from India alone.

Reward entrepreneurial behavior : One way you can reward is by allowing intrapreneurs to follow through with their ideas. The intrapreneur's creativity and emotional investment in the project and knowledge and understanding of the various issues under consideration will be helpful in further developing the process or product. Also not allowing these intrapreneurs to do so can lower their morale and reduce future contributions from others, too., the online social networking service was based on Google engineer Orkut’s selfdirected research that Google encourages. So not only did Orkut become the technical lead for the project, Google also named the site after him. Entrepreneurial behavior should also be financially rewarded. Your objective is to inculcate entrepreneurs within the company and not for them to seek better rewards by implementing their ideas outside the company.

Finally entreprenuership is not accidental, but intentional. CE must start at the top. Top management support for CE is crucial to developing a climate that is supportive of entrepreneurial projects. Senior management must be comfortable dealing with ambiguity, fast-paced workplace developments, and changing marketplace dynamics. They must possess the collaborative skills needed to “flatten decision-making” with internal constituents, partners, suppliers, and customers in order to bring innovative products to market faster.

A case in point is Google. Marissa Mayer director of consumer Web products at Google is good at drawing out programmers informally, during a chance meeting in the cafeteria or hallway.
During a casual chat in 2003, an employee told her about the project of an Australian engineer, Steve Lawrence. He was developing a program to track and search the contents of his computer, which ran on the Linux operating system. Knowing Google had to figure out a way for people to find stuff on their own computers, Mayer tracked Lawrence down and asked him about developing a version of his software to search any PC. He was enthusiastic, so she helped assemble a team to work with him. The result: Google introduced its desktop search in October, 2004, two months before Microsoft.

Entrepreneurs build businesses. Great entrepreneurs are able to create value from almost nothing, often by building on existing ingredients. You may see the result and wonder 'Why didn't I think of that?' Entrepreneurs see the world differently. They see possibilities. They see what can be. Google has institutionalized this process and is able to remain the leader and be competitive because the whole company is an ‘innovation lab’. Being an intrapreneur is more about attitude than aptitude. So one can be an entrepreneur even while running a department or leading a team just as much as by starting a company. The question is whether you have created an organization culture that will allow, encourage and sustain Corporate Entrepreneurship in your company.


  • Nurturing the corporate entrepreneurship capability
  • ‘Evolving the Enterprise: 7 Characteristics of a Healthy Entrepreneurial Ecosystem’, 18 April 2009,
    Biswas ,S, ‘India Inc bets on 'intrapreneurs'’, 10 Sep 2008,
  • L ,Anu, ‘Fostering Intrapreneurship - The new Competitive Edge’, Conference on Global Competition and Competitiveness of Indian Corporate,
  • Intrapreneurship’,
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    McCrorey , D, ‘Corporate Entrepreneurship 2008 Style’, 17 January 2008,

    Shrader , Dr R, ‘Entrepreneurship: It's Not About the Product ... It's About the Passion’, October 18, 2000,

    Arakeri,NV & George, R & Wey,M & Yu, N & Zhuang, D, ‘Product Initiation Processes at Google Inc.’,
  • ‘Managing Google's Idea Factory’, OCTOBER 3, 2005,

Making the Most of Performance Reviews : Feature Article; March'08

Performance Reviews – making the most of them !

If I mention “Performance Review” most of you would think of rating, salary increments, bonuses and promotions. Would you also think of future performance, skill enhancement and charting a stellar career? If the answer is “Yes” then you may already be making the most of your performance review, if the answer is “No” then read on. 


Why do Performance Reviews exist?
By and large they exist to review your past performance and provide you feedback for improvements. Most performance reviews are completed on a yearly basis. For the organization the main objectives of having performance reviews include:-

  • To ensure each team member knows clearly what they are expected to do, individually.

  • To set standards / establish a level of competence for both the individual employee and the workplace as a whole.

  • To plan for and receive inputs from employees for their professional and career growth.

  • To ensure performance of employees are evaluated on same criteria for the same job.

  • For a fair and objective basis for rewarding and recognizing individual performance To provide regular feedback on how one is doing to improve/develop self.

Usually performance reviews are completed by your manager and then reviewed together by both of you. This gives you one-on-one time with the manager to highlight your abilities and discuss professional growth. Thus the discussion is an important aspect of the review process. Let’s see how you can make this discussion meaningful.

Preparing for the Performance Review
Preparing for the performance appraisal ensures you are ready with your points of view and can table them with your Manager. Being unprepared means being a reactive or a passive participant in the process.  It is essential that you take time out and do the following:-

    • Review your work: Think about ….
      • Your job description, job responsibilities, and any job performance expectations set with your manager

      • Key achievements and factors that contributed to them

      • Factors that inhibited your optimal performance

      • Steps taken towards self-development

      • Career aspirations for future

      • Training and self-development needs.

    • Document adequately: If the review form does not provide space for the points mentioned above document them in additional comments section. Be detailed in writing your self-evaluation. Make sure to give specific examples. If you saved the company money by suggesting and implementing a process, add that. Mention figures. Write “Trained 8 batches comprising of 15 people each” instead of “Conducted training for a lot of batches’’.
    • Ensure feedback is received from all managers: If you've had more than one manager in the performance assessment period, be sure that the earlier manager has passed on feedback of your performance to the current one.

What you should do during the review discussion

What you should not do during the review discussion

What about Post Discussion?

The value of a performance review lies in the action that you take based on the discussion you have had with your manager. Do work on the feedback received. Follow through on action points you have agreed upon. If your manager has agreed to support you, remind him gently if he does not keep his commitment.

    1. Be an active participant: Your performance review will be effective if you are as active and involved as your Manager in expressing your positions and ideas. Performance appraisal time is an excellent time for you to make suggestions about work practices that could be changed to deliver better performance. Remember your manager can't read your mind. He/she can work with you to help you do your job more effectively, if you provide him/her with information and ideas.

    2. Be a positive contributor to the process: Seeing the process as a positive tool to build your career will help you maintain a positive frame of mind all through the discussion even when you are being criticized. The key is to participate with a problem-solving mindset focusing on how things can be improved.

    3. Review past performance: Go through your past performance and objectively identify the areas where you excelled. At the same time, do not avoid the criticism that might come your way. Be graceful in admitting where you went wrong and seek guidance from your Manager on how to proceed in future.   

    4. Understand your strengths and also weaknesses: Ask your manager to be frank in listing out your strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis your current role as well as your next planned or targeted role.

    5. Discuss your career aspirations and related development needs: This is a good time to discuss your personal career goals and to get input on achieving these goals. If you don't know what role you can move into next, ask.

    6. Mention the support you need from your Manager: Be clear in letting your Manager know the areas where you would need her/his support. If you need help with more resources or you need your Manager to provide you inputs etc to be successful in your goals, mention that clearly.

    7. Ask for increased job responsibilities: If you want to grow, you must take on additional work responsibilities. So request for it. Even if you are not given higher responsibilities immediately, your manager will remember your eagerness to shoulder more responsibilities.

    8. Seek clarifications: Some managers communicate and explain well. Some don't. However, unless you clarify the reasoning or explanations, you won't know what you need to do to improve your future job performance. It's important to leave the review meeting having a good understanding of what's been said.

    1. Focus on just completing the Review Forms: The ultimate purpose of performance review is to allow employees and managers to improve continuously and to remove barriers to job success. Forms are simply a way of recording information for later reference. If the focus is getting the forms "done", without thought and effort, the whole process becomes a waste of time.

    2. Point out your manager’s shortcomings: This is a strict NO. It's your review, not your manager’s. So, do not be tempted to highlight her/his improvement areas; rather mention the areas where you need her/his cooperation. Discuss how the two of you can work better together.

    3. Express disappointment about responsibilities in the review period: If you are upset about your responsibility areas, you don’t have to wait until the review to express it. You should mention this at the time when you feel the tasks are not challenging enough.

    4. Play the blame game: Blaming others for your non-performance reflects poorly on you. Accept your mistakes gracefully, learn from them, and move on empowered with this new knowledge. Your Manager will respect you more if you are open to work on your shortcomings. 

    5. Be defensive: It is difficult to hear others' critical comments about our work. But, if you enter into the discussion with an attitude of "defending", then it's almost impossible to create the dialogue necessary for performance improvement. This does not mean you cannot present your own opinions and perceptions, but that you should present them in a calm, factual manner, rather than in a defensive, emotional way.

    6. Blackmail the organization to get a good performance rating: Don't use threats of resignation/offer letters from other firms to get a good performance rating. If your manager changes the rating based on it and gives you a rating you do not deserve, during the normalization process it will get normalised. In the long run you will lose more than you gain in the short term by way of the negative feeling of your Manager and colleagues towards you.

    7. Focus on review as a way of getting more money: Pay is important, but the focus on what ultimately matters over the long term ie., continuous performance improvement should not be diluted especially if because of the money focus one becomes hesitant to reveal shortcomings or mistakes. Improve and deliver brilliant performance. Money will automatically follow.


Reviews are not merely about recognition and rewards. It is also about learning and development. The feedback that you get can help you move up the organisational ladder faster. While during your review, your past performance is evaluated, the roadmap for the future is also prepared. This roadmap could define all the success you will enjoy in your professional life! Choose to be an active participant in this process and chart the path to where you wish to go in your career.



    • Bose, P, “Performance review: Dos and don'ts?”,
    • Ghosh, G, “Getting your performance review right”,
      • Darode, V, “Top Ten Tips for a Better Performance Review”,
      • Kirk, J.F, “It's the need to achieve that drives top performers”,
      • Bacal, R, “Seven Stupid Things EMPLOYEES Do To Screw Up Performance Review”,

Career Planning for Effective Career Development: Feature Article; Jan '08

We are experiencing one of the most exciting times in the Indian workplace. One need not keep doing the same thing for years together. One need not only aspire to become a doctor or an engineer. If you want to change jobs there are umpteen jobs to choose from. If you want to improve yourself professionally there are lots of career development opportunities. Economy, lifestyles, work needs… everything seems to be changing rapidly. In such a scenario is there a need for career planning? Yes, and we will find out why.

Career planning involves assessing personal strengths, values, aspirations; establishing career goals; and identifying the steps needed to achieve them. During periods of rapid change and exciting possibilities, a career plan can keep you focused on the important things that matter to you. It provides you with clarity to make informed choices when good opportunities emerge and helps you monitor your career development effectively. Planning your career helps you achieve your potential and avoid the boredom, disillusionment, frustration and stress that can occur on account of failing to achieve your potential.

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Where should we plan our careers?

Should the career be planned within the context of a single organization or several organizations? Whether it is in a single or several organizations, what is important is that careers should be planned for fairly long tenures rather than short ones in any organization.

Short stints with organizations neither give individuals adequate time to do meaningful career planning or adequate time to understand organization culture etc to make an impact through one’s contributions. Understandably in the initial stages of one’s career we try out a few jobs before finding what is suitable for us. But frequent shifting of jobs in later stages of one’s career can be detrimental to one’s career development and can in fact indicate a lack of effective career planning. Does this mean that we should remain in an organization even when our career is stagnating? Of course not, after a reasonable time period, one should move for the right reasons like significant increase in responsibility.

How do we plan our careers?

The following steps can help us plan our careers effectively:-

Understand yourself and your needs: The foundation of your career plan should be your understanding of who you are (your strengths/limitations, attitudes, personality), what is important to you (your values), your dreams and hopes for the future. Think about your current obligations and commitments and what they will be in future? Where do you see yourself in the short, medium and long term? Reflecting on your experiences and self-assessment tools can aid you in this stage.

Assess where you are currently: Before you undertake any planning, realistically identifying your starting point is important. A good place to begin is to make an inventory of your knowledge, skills and experience. Then take stock of whether your current career path allows you the lifestyle you seek, is the number of times you are able to engage in activities you are passionate about while you are at work adequate, does your current job have more likes or dislikes, how close is your job to your dream job etc

Get information on available opportunities and options: Now that you know what is the gap between what you want (eg., managerial responsibility) and what you have (eg., good technical skills but no managerial skills) research thoroughly on available opportunities (eg., managerial skills workshop, managerial positions within the same company, a good manager who you can learn from) that can help you bridge the gap. Remember to also explore not so obvious opportunities like coaching new juniors and part-time, job share, or flexible employment.

Set goals and prepare an action plan: This stage is where you develop a picture of yourself and your career. Goals can be knowledge based (eg., wanting to master the field of human resources in two years) skill based (eg., developing soft skills required to lead a team) or hierarchical based (eg., wanting to head an HR department in 10 years time). Based on the opportunities available to you and your current situation you can prepare an action plan to achieve those goals. Action plans could include development activities like acquiring additional qualification (eg., a post graduation in HR), relevant experience ( eg., obtaining a transfer to the HR department from administration department) etc or making a career move like changing jobs and fields.

A short-term career plan focuses on the coming year or the next few years and involves developing realistic, time bound and specific goals that you can meet in the near future. Long-term career planning usually involves a planning window of five years or more and involves a broader set of career goals. Since businesses and workplaces are changing rapidly, the skills that you have or plan for today may not be in demand years from now. So, long-term career planning should be more about identifying and developing core skills like problem solving that employers will always value.

Take action: Next step is to execute your plan. Hard work and discipline in sticking to your action plan will help you in this stage. Sharing your plan with your family and close friends can increase your commitment to it and also help you get adequate support from them. For instance studying for an additional degree may mean less of family time. To accomplish this you will need your family’s understanding and support.

Periodically review career progress: Even if you are acting as per your plans do not forget to review your goals and plans regularly. This is essential since your experiences and changing circumstances may make you realize that you have discovered talents you did not realize you had, that some skills have become redundant, that new and exciting opportunities have emerged and so on. If goals have become obsolete, do not think twice before setting new ones. Priorities also change over a period time. While learning might be the primary objective during the initial years of your career, leadership, status, power might be what you desire at later stages.

Tips for effective career planning

You can make use of the following tips that people have found useful over the years:-

  • Free yourself from all career barriers: These barriers could be personal barriers (such as lack of motivation, apathy or procrastination), family pressure (such as expectations to work in the family business or follow a certain career path), and peer pressure.

  • Be practical: It is possible that you may have unrealistic aspirations. Do a reality check with your colleagues, mentors, family and friends.

  • Do not take a limited view: You may view yourself as only occupying one type of job and this can narrow career ambitions dramatically. There are instances where people have had 2 career paths, both totally different from each other.

  • Be flexible: Nowadays rapid changes in the nature of work and organizations are common. Over-detailed planning can leave little or no scope for responding to changes in circumstances.

  • Do not depend on others recognizing your potential: If you think your bosses will recognize your potential, you are wrong. He/she may, but it is important you yourself recognize and nurture your potential.

  • Assume responsibility for your own career development: Blaming your company for not developing your career is like blaming your teacher for your failure in a subject.

  • Do not take unnecessary risks: Definitely experiment, but make informed choices about your career. You want to start your own venture. Go ahead! But do your homework thoroughly for the same.

  • Be alert: Career development is not a one-time activity. So, you need to continuously keep a track of the emerging trends in your industry, work concepts and its effect on employment.

  • Be an opportunist: While you are implementing your career plan, make sure that you do not ignore good career opportunities that present themselves. If an exciting career opportunity comes up in your field, make sure you are equipped to seize it.


We plan when go for a holiday and we also plan for our child’s birthday party. Should we then not plan for the important but not so urgent things in our life like our career development? I am of the opinion that we must. A career is the way in which our work life or professional achievements progress. And leaving this to chance instead of systematic planning is foolhardy.



  • Oct 1, 2005, ‘Working out a career plan.(Checklist 061)’,, Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: Personal Effectiveness and Development.
  • ‘Career Planning - Avoiding dead end careers’,
  • Suryanarayanan, M, ‘Effective Career Planning: Taking responsibility for your Career’,

Being and Effective Mentor : Feature Article, Nov'07

One of the important ways to develop your career is by having a good mentor. But did you know you can develop your career not only by being mentored, but by mentoring others. Now before you switch off from this subject thinking you are too junior in your company to be a mentor, do read further to find out more about mentoring. Then decide whether you can be a mentor and whether it is worthwhile being one!

Understanding mentoring

A mentor is one who offers knowledge, insight, perspective or wisdom that is especially useful to the other person. He is a career counselor, a coach, a guide, a motivator, a role model and a teacher.  A mentor’s role is to help the mentee reach his/her goals.

A mentee is a person being mentored by another person; especially one who makes an effort to assess, internalize and use effectively the knowledge, skills, insights, perspective or wisdom offered by the mentor.

A mentoring relationship is mentee-centered. The mentor listens, sometimes challenges, offers insights and encourages. The relationship needs reasonably frequent and consistent contact. Both partners contribute, change and grow. In an informal mentoring relationship someone takes an interest in us, or we in them. A formal mentoring relationship has an acknowledged commitment of time and energy for the purpose of guiding and sharing. Both types can be for specific projects or for extended time periods.

You need not be in a senior role in the company to become a mentor. Yes, being a mentor to somebody if you are just out of college is difficult, but if you have worked successfully for a couple of years you have the basic qualification required for being a mentor. However, all successful people do not necessarily make effective mentors; certain individuals are more effective in the role of developing others. Whether or not an individual is suited to the role of mentor may depend on his or her own stage of development and experience. So what else does it take to be a good mentor?


Characteristics of a good mentor

Some of the common characteristics of good mentors are:-

  1. Genuine interest in and commitment to others’ growth: Mentoring requires that you be sincerely interested in someone else’s growth and be willing to motivate and support others to learn and grow. A mentor can significantly influence another person’s life. Time and energy over a period of time is necessary for such a relationship. You must be able to devote the same to your mentee.

  2. Approachable and welcoming: A mentor should be easy to talk to so that the mentee can talk about anything with the mentor, not just a technical subject. And it is so much easier to talk to a person who is warm and encouraging. Establishing a good rapport with mentee is important for being approachable.

  3. Good listener: Your focus should be to LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN!! Listening carefully will help you understand the perspective of the mentee and this will in turn help you cater to the individual needs of each mentee.

  4. Gives advice without dictating actions: Help your mentees organize their own thoughts. Help with their focus. Help them think about what they can do to be successful, not what you did to be successful. Understand their problems and offer solutions. But be clear that any decisions made should be made by them. They have to figure things out for themselves.

  5. Encourages independence yet offers support: Encourage your mentee to be independent. Also offer support by sharing your knowledge and experience, including successes and failures. A good mentor should stick up for and look out for the best interests of the person being mentored. Being aware of resources and support systems within the company will aid you in the same

  6. Good role model through actions and words: Mentors must provide a good example of a successful career. They must demonstrate what they are advising. Having someone tell you what you should do carries much less weight than seeing someone act it out.

  7. Encourages and demonstrates confidence in mentee: A key characteristic of a good mentor is the "I-know-you-can-do-it’ attitude. As a mentor you must believe in your mentee’s capabilities and ability to succeed. This will also help build your mentee’s self-confidence. Offer constructive criticism as well as compliments to encourage him/her.

  8. Exhibits patience: People can't be expected to learn all at once. Remember that you didn't know everything all the time. So patience will help you push your mentees gently towards their goal achievement.

  9. Willing to admit they don't know everything: Individuals who are still willing and able to learn make good mentors. This also includes an ability to accept different points of view.

  10. Inspires trust: A mentor should respect the confidentiality of the mentoring relationship. The discussions held during the relationship is solely for the purpose of developing the mentee and not for any other purpose like finding out what the mentee thinks so that he/she can be manipulated to meet one’s ulterior motives.

So does it look like you have the making of good mentor? If yes, read further to find out why you should consider taking up the role of a mentor.


Benefits of being a mentor

According to research sponsored by AOL Time Warner Foundation and conducted by Pathfinder Research and Market Facts, 99% of people who mentor through formal mentoring programs recommend it to others.  A mentor once said, "I didn't know in advance how rewarding it was going to be, so I was worried about the responsibility of giving my time consistently.  The irony is that once I started doing it, I didn't want to miss a session."

While mentoring others does help in your career development they also provide you with many other benefits as listed below:-

How can anybody become a mentor?

OK now you are all charged up and want to be a mentor and it strikes you that you don’t know how to find your mentee. Start by looking around in your workplace. You are likely to find a candidate among your own team members. However, it is best that you do not mentor somebody who reports to you to avoid conflicts between work and mentoring goals. You can even identify somebody from another department since your mentee need not necessarily be from the same profession like Finance or Sales.
If you are known for your knowledge and expertise in the company, mentees will come looking for you. In that case examine your time commitments before committing to a mentoring relationship.

Your company may ask for volunteers to be mentors for the formal “mentoring” or in the case of junior people “buddy” programs. Go ahead and volunteer! Unlike formal mentoring programs, in informal mentoring relationships, you will have to take more initiative to maintain it and get the best out it.


Why do people become mentors? The answers vary. Some of us just want to be a positive influence on others, or give something to their community. And some of us were fortunate to have had a mentor and want to repay that by mentoring others. What ever is your reason for being a mentor, you will find it a rewarding experience. Nothing can beat the satisfaction of seeing somebody reach their goals and achieve their dreams in front of you.



  • Reh, F. J, “Mentors and Mentoring: What is a mentor?”, .
  • Reh, F. J, “Mentors and Mentoring: Being a Mentor”, .
  • “What characteristics does a good mentor have?”,,1607,7-193--82397--,00.html .
  • Saul, J, “Creating Mentoring Relationships”,
  • Megginson D and Clutterbuck D, 1995, “Mentoring in action”, Kogan Page Limited, London.

Managing Difficult Bosses: Feature Article; Jun'07

In the book ‘First break all the rules’ the authors propound that employees do not leave their companies, but leave their bosses. It got me thinking. What if the boss is alright and the individual had not managed his/her boss effectively? I know what you are thinking….shouldn’t our bosses be managing us? Why do we need to manage our bosses?

Common sense tell us that parents manage their children. But ask any parent and he/she will tell you how his/her child manages him/her. And why does the child do that. To simply get his/her way!  Applying that logic we can say that we need to manage our bosses to get what we want from our work. Bosses can guide us, offer meaningful feedback, connect us with the rest of the organization, provide necessary organizational resources and motivate us to do better.

How do we manage difficult bosses?
While thankfully most bosses are not difficult (I guess that is why they are bosses!) there are some who are difficult and need to be managed accordingly.

The Indecisive - They are vague and flit between decisions. Figure out what triggers their indecisiveness. Is it avoidance of conflict or risk? Provide them the confidence that you will be able to manage the conflict or risk.  If you do not want procrastination, give them a hand by stating past problems encountered because a decision was not made Summarize the options considered and your criteria for selecting one option. Be clear what you expect from them. Do you want to simply inform, to decide jointly, to share the risk, to add one criterion or to re-examine the option.

The Control Freak - These managers micromanage everything not allowing you to think or function for yourself. Fear of failure or lack of confidence in you usually makes them want to control every little task. If you can reassure them that you are taking adequate steps to address risks and provide them as many details as possible, you can work well with them. Successfully executing a few projects will also automatically improve their confidence in your abilities.

The Absent One - This manager could be traveling across the globe or just has too many things on his/her plate. The trick is to squeeze yourself into his/her schedule. And once you do get face time with him/her make the most of it by preparing thoroughly beforehand. Summing up options and what decisions he/she needs to make, or direction they need to give makes it easy for them to deal with more in less time.  

The Politically Savvy - These bosses do not want to ruffle any feathers especially those belonging to the top management and are very conscious of what is politically right and wrong. They can be easily managed by helping them look good in front of their seniors. But it is important to watch your back.  Get written support for anything risky or controversial to avoid being a potential scapegoat.

The Whip-Cracker - The whip-cracker drives you hard. Ever watchful, he seems to know about every mistake that you commit or even the ones you are about to commit. He works very hard and does not seem to have life outside work. Unfortunately he expects you to work also the same way. If it is not a temporary phenomenon on account of a looming deadline, you need to reconcile to it. On the bright side you get to reap the rewards of hard work.

The Bully - Very rarely you could have a bully for a boss, one who is nasty and makes you miserable. But before you shout “Help!” look around. Is your manager singling you out? If you are the only one, maybe your working styles clash. Consider changing your style to match your boss’. If he is doing it to everybody then at least you know it’s not personal. Report it to your superior or an HR representative.

The Non Appreciative - You have worked hard and according to you, you have produced the best report possible. And there is no “Good show!” statement from your boss. If your boss is generally the type who never appreciates anybody then your best bet would be to ask him directly for feedback on your work and if you really did a good job he will have to admit it. Alternately you can ask for feedback from supportive teammates. But if he/she does appreciate occasionally then you know you only need to do better to receive that rare compliment.

The Inexperienced - Being a boss can be tough. Bosses have to deal with their own pressures and priorities. Added to that if they have just been promoted, they may still be learning the ropes of being a boss. Understanding this can make you more sensitive towards their problems. Due to their inexperience they may not realize the extent of direction that needs to be provided to subordinates. You can help them help you by articulating what kind of support you expect from them to do your job.


The Non Communicative - This manager communicates a decision and you are left clueless of the rationale for it. You are told to perform a task, but you do not understand the relevance of the same for the organization. You can ask for an explanation, but you are likely to not get one that satisfies you. Understanding your boss’ and organization's priorities may help you in this front. If you are new to the job this might be difficult, but over a period of time by observing trends and patterns you will figure out.

What about non difficult bosses?

Yes, we also need to manage them. Regardless of the type of boss we have we can have an effective relationship by following a few guidelines.

Appreciate realities: While some of us really do work for difficult bosses, most of us may only think we do. Check with your peers whether they also feel the same way. If not maybe you are being unreasonable. If you have faced problems with all your bosses maybe you need to reflect and see if the problem lies with you rather than the bosses.

Understand reasons for difficult behavior: As we saw earlier in the article, understanding the reasons for difficult behaviour helps in determining ways to deal with it.

Manage your own negative emotions regarding his/her behavior: It is important to do this so that you do not engage in self-defeating behavior like counter-attacking your boss.

Understand boss’ perspective: Look at issues from your boss’ perspective and not just from your own. Say your boss says ‘No’ to your dream project because there are insufficient funds, don't just complain. Understand from him/her what's needed to get it going and how you can help. By addressing the boss' concerns, you subtly influence him or her to work more on yours.

Communicate issues/concerns positively: If your boss generally behaves in a reasonable manner and his/her difficult behavior seems to be a result of stress overload, the behavior can be modified with feedback. While providing feedback, be clear about the issue and its impact without getting defensive or aggressive. Explain how the boss can resolve your concern. Ask for his/her commitment to follow through as agreed.

Use commitment based approach: Commitment-based approach with your bosses can provide good results. How this works is that you ask your boss to make specific commitments to you even if they are small. You follow up when your boss ignores or forgets that commitment by reminding him or her of the broken commitment.

Overcome fear: Often fear of how the person is going to react to you on discussing a problem prevents one from the broaching the subject. Overcoming this fear can bring things into the open and help sort out misunderstandings.

Be choosy about asking their opinions: If you ask your boss for an opinion, you will always get one. And the opinion may not always be the best one. However, once given, the opinion might seem like an order. So, if you don't want your boss' opinion to slow decision-making speed, or cloud the viewpoint, then don't ask for it. Well, don't ask if you don't need his/her opinion.

Don't just come up with problems: It is important to identify solutions to problems. So next time you take a problem to your boss also go with possible solutions. That way you are taking equal responsibility for solving it.

Educate: Agreed you are the technical expert since you spend all of your time on the issue. But you need your manager’s perspective because it is broader. While he/she may not know as much as you do, he/she can understand; so educate him/her. Educate by simplifying; using easy to understand language; by feeding him/her with articles, illustrations, best practices and summaries that help him/her see a perspective. By creating understanding, you relieve tensions; create trust that can lead to better decision-making.

Understand manager’s style: In managing your boss you should know her personal inclination, as well as your personal bias. If you are process oriented, you will tend to present issues in a systematic and orderly fashion, with pros and cons, chronology of tasks, etc. whereas he/she may prefer understanding the broad aspects leaving the detailing to you.

Be Trustworthy: Being trustworthy ensures that your boss has confidence in you and relies on you. And if he thinks you will help him succeed, he will make efforts to help you succeed.  Do not undermine trust by promising what you cannot deliver, by not delivering on what you promise, by surprising the boss with bad news without forewarning or by being sloppy in your work.


The relationship we have with our boss is perhaps one of the most important relationships we have at the workplace. While we may not have difficult bosses, at some point we do face difficulties in our relationship with them. Effectively managing the difficulties we face in our relationship with our bosses can help us become more effective in our jobs.



  • ‘Managing The Difficult Boss’,

  • Marilyn, PY,’Managing Your Boss’,

  • Lyndsay, S, ‘How to Deal with a Difficult Boss: Solutions to 7 Types of Bad Management Styles,

  • Horovitz, J, August 12, 2005, ‘10 rules to manage your boss’,

  • Zweibel, BK, ‘Manage Your Boss Effectively’,

Improving Effectiveness with Emotional Intelligence : Featured Article Aug'07


Raghav’s superior analytical skills had once again helped him solve a difficult technical problem at work.  In his 6 year career, he had yet again proven his technical acumen and he felt on top of the world. What more did he need to succeed and be an achiever in life he thought? Actually, Raghav needs to supplement his high Intelligent Quotient (IQ) and technical skills, with just one more ability viz., Emotional Intelligence!

What is Emotional Intelligence?
Simply put, Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to manage ourselves and our relationships with others effectively. It has the following five aspects:


Research shows that the need for EI increases with increased levels of responsibility. It determines who excels in any given job and is essential for being a good leader.

Benefits of improved EI
In Raghav’s case, improving his EI will ensure he is more effective in his career and has a more fulfilling personal life by helping him….

  • Motivate himself  to do his best and stay focused on his goals
  • Strengthen trust with others to build productive relationships
  • Deal with everyday job stresses
  • Develop his courage to make difficult decisions
  • Have kindness to create great customer service
  • Build resilience to persevere through adversity
  • Ignite the best and most inspired performance from his team members
  • Have confidence to constantly change with the world around him

Clearly the benefits of using EI are many. But what if our EI is low, can we improve it? Yes, the good news is unlike IQ, which tends to remain fixed throughout our lifetime, EI can be improved over time. And there is more good news.  Most people's EI increases with experience and maturity. So what are some of the behaviors that demonstrate high EI? How do we go about improving our EI?  Let’s find out.


Using EI techniques to be more effective
While each of us needs to evolve specific strategies to improve the EI aspects we are not good at, there are some EI techniques that can be used by all to be more effective.

  • Understand and take responsibility for your emotions- When one fails to understand one’s feelings one tends to blame others or the environment for one’s emotions. Realize that you create your feelings of happiness or sadness and others are not responsible for them. Once you are aware of what you are feeling, the odds of successfully dealing with your emotions are greatly improved.
  • Develop constructive coping skills for specific moods- Learn to relax when your emotions are running high. When you feel angry, use the energy that the feeling brings for something that will release that anger, not feed it. Go for a run when you are feeling blue. Look for the silver lining, humor or a lesson in a negative situation.
  • Talk to yourself differently- When faced with challenges say to yourself, “I will try. I can make a difference.” instead of, “Why should I even try. It won’t make a difference.” Optimistic thinking is more likely to lead to successful outcomes.
  • Remember you are not your emotions- There are no “bad emotions”. So don’t feel guilty for feeling emotions which you think are not appropriate. It's how you respond to those feelings that matters.
  • Care for others- There is nothing like caring for others to release good feelings in oneself. To genuinely care for others put into practice the proverb "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you".

  • Have a supportive network- Build trusting relationships with friends, family and colleagues. By choosing the right people, you will be able to surround yourself with those who care about you and help you feel good about yourself.

  • Put yourself in others’ shoes- Try imagining what it must be like to see things from others’ perspectives. Ask questions and listen attentively to what is said. Paying attention to non verbal communication can help you empathize better. So, watch faces, listen to tone of voice, and observe body language.

  • Stop responding automatically- Take control of the way you think and act by listening to your emotions and thoughts. Find out why you react the way you do. Whatever you feel is giving you valuable information, either about the situation you are in, or about some event that has happened that you need to learn from. Mentally prepare yourself for improving how you think and act in future.

  • See meaning in your work- People who see meaning in their work are more positive than people who believe their work is meaningless. Do more of what is meaningful to you.
  • Use your energy wisely- You need immense energy to tackle life’s challenges. If you are constantly worried about things you cannot change, you will be left with little time and energy for things that you can change. So, quit fuming about those traffic jams and think of how you will improve your team’s morale.

Improving our EI

Understand the aspects of EI
The starting point to developing your EI, would be to understand thoroughly the various aspects of EI. Don’t just stop with reading this article, go ahead and read more on EI.  Read books on EI. Do some googling on the internet for articles.

Understand your current level of EI
Next step would be to know what your current level of EI is. Studies have shown that we usually rate our own Emotional Quotient (EQ) higher than what other people rate us since we have justifications for our behavior, in spite of the negative impact the behavior might have. Hence, though there are self-assessment tools available to assess one’s EQ, a better option would be a 360 degree assessment ie., your EI is assessed by people who know you well viz., family, colleagues, bosses, team members etc.

Choose behaviors for improvement
Now that you know what you need to improve don’t be over ambitious and attack all of them. It is essential to limit yourself to only one or two behaviors to work on at a time to ensure success. Also the more specific the behavior change planned the better. For example, you may decide to work on your tendency to avoid difficult colleagues. Though it is a good idea to select behaviors which impact your work and personal life the most, they may not be easy to improve. So start with those that can give you some quick wins.

Find alternative behaviors           
After identifying a behavior to work on, identify the alternative behavior you need to develop. Alternative behavior in our example would be not avoiding difficult people (that was easy :-). If you have always behaved this way, you must be wondering how you can change it. Hmm…this is a habit, not an innate ability. Habits can be broken. New habits can be learned and retained through intentional effort, practice, repetition and of course the motivation to change. Understanding reasons for the behavior and benefits of alternate behavior can help. It also helps, if you identify someone with a high EI and think of how he/she would respond to the given situation.


We are primarily emotional beings. There are emotions everywhere, at work, at home even on the roads. It is our emotional intelligence that will help us become more effective everywhere. Yes, it takes time, patience and a high motivation level to improve our EI. But it is worth it!