Unraveling and Practicing Employee Engagement: Feature Article; V4 Issue 3

Understanding Employee Engagement

Does Employee Engagement seem like another buzz word to you? And yet you must be experiencing the presence or absence of it every day at your workplace. Employee Engagement is nothing but involving an employee’s mind and heart completely when he/she is at work which in turn enriches the employee and the organization. It is about an employee experiencing high job satisfaction while contributing effectively to the organization. Employee Engagement has been defined differently by different organizations doing research in this area as given below.

I personally like the definition provided by Tim Rutledge, owner and publisher of Mattanie Press and author of ‘Getting Engaged: The New Workplace Loyalty’. He says‘truly engaged employees are: attracted to and inspired by their work (‘I want to do this’), committed (‘I am dedicated to the success of what I am doing’), and fascinated (‘I love what I am doing’).’

Levels of Employee Engagement: 

In a study conducted by Towers Perrin in 2003 representing the views of more than 35,000 employees in U.S companies it was found that there are following types of employees. 

  • Highly engaged: A small percentage of employees freely give extra effort on an ongoing basis. The opportunity for an organization lies with this small group of people, who can become role models for their peers, helping build the kind of environment and work experience that does engage greater numbers of people.

  • Disengaged: An equally small percentage of employees who have “checked out” from their work constitute this group.

  • “Moderately” engaged: The remainder of the employees ie, roughly two-thirds forms this group. The challenge lies with this group. Left to their own, these employees could easily become disengaged, causing a dramatic fall in productivity and morale. Strengthening this group’s level of engagement is the most critical task virtually every employer faces.


Benefits of Employee Engagement and its evolution

Hewitt has been conducting Best Employers studies around the world. Their research shows that Best Employers excel at employee engagement. As a result they enjoy a bigger pool of talent from which to select employees, lower employee turnover, lower absenteeism rate, increased customer satisfaction, higher economic returns, and greater sustainability in the face of business challenge. And Best Employers are better positioned to take advantage of business opportunities and weather business cycles effectively.

Prior to the 1990’s ‘employee surveys’ were focused on employee satisfaction. However it was found that there was no guarantee that satisfied employees would contribute more to the organization. The concept of employee engagement was developed in response to increasing globalization. Global competition forced businesses to become more flexible in responding to employee needs. There was also a rising interest in employee engagement due to the dotcom bubble burst in 2000 which caused the economy to dip and created unemployment. Then came the Millennials, a new generation of workers who demanded more from their employer than just pay. During the recent recession many organizations have had to cut costs, lose staff and demand more from their remaining employees. Technology continues to revolutionize not only how work gets done, but also how people access their work and each other. As the economy changes and employee needs evolve, employee engagement becomes more and more essential in increasing productivity while satisfying employee needs. 

What drives Employee Engagement and how can you drive it?

Frederick Herzberg observed over 40 years ago that the same employees who complained about poor working conditions, such as cold, dirt and dim lighting were quite happy to work on their cars in a dingy, dusty garage at home. So there was something else which was driving engagement. In fact there are several factors which drive employee engagement. Let us look at how as a manager you can help in creating employee engagement in your team by doing your bit in each of these factors, which come to think of it is quite a bit.

  1. Relationship with manager and Managerial support: Very often when employees leave an organization, they are leaving their manager. It is not dissatisfaction with the company but dissatisfaction with the manager that causes them to resign. So it is important that you develop a strong and positive relationship with your team members to ensure high levels of engagement in your team. Which means you need to be engaged yourself to engage others. If you are highly stretched at work and don’t energize yourself, you will not have the energy to initiate or sustain engagement efforts. As manager you need to provide your team with required direction and resources to support work processes and activities. Ensure employees balance between work and home life. Be supportive of the engagement initiative while monitoring the work-life balance of employees. Highly engaged people run the risk of burnout by becoming too eager and too passionate about their work.
  2. Role clarity: This factor refers to whether employees know what is expected from them. As their manager you are the best person to provide this clarity by defining clear and specific goals. Also make them understand how their goals relate to company goals and make them understand how their unit/department contributes to company success. This line of sight between individual actions on the job and broader company objectives is important for engaging an employee. Helping employees clearly understand the mutual responsibility and accountability is at the heart of an effective employer/employee relationship.
  3. Challenging work: Being able to do something interesting and meaningful helps create a sense of personal inspiration and accomplishment, leading to pride in one’s work and one’s company. There are certain things you can do to help promote a more stimulating and challenging environment for your subordinates. Encourage people to take initiative, be open to change, tolerate uncertainty. Coach and develop people’s skills, and hold people accountable for their performance. These become even more important where the work itself is relatively routine work.
  4. Performance feedback and recognition: Regular, specific performance feedback is a powerful tool to engage people. When one knows where one can improve one is more actively involved in doing something about it and reaches ones’ goals. As important as pay and benefits are in attracting and retaining people, they are less important in engaging people in their work. Though pay does not drive engagement, any form of recognition for good work does. So, offer recognition for employees who excel or who demonstrate a strong passion for their work and organization.
  5. Career development opportunities: Employees look at their jobs and careers as more than a means to gain money. By working they hope to gain both professional and personal skills. Training and coaching is important to achieve this. Get to know your employees as well as their goals and aspirations, so that together you can develop a clear path for advancement and opportunities for growth. Ensure that high performers in your team advance in the organization.
    Not everybody speaks well and not everybody can put people at ease. These are talents unique to individuals. Identify the talents of your team members and provide them with work opportunities where they get to use these talents. Being good at a job bolsters confidence and ensures both the organization and the employee achieves individual and collective goals.
  6. A sense of ‘team’: This refers to the camaraderie, intimacy and the ability to be oneself that one experiences at work. Have a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Foster a sense of community and team work. People’s positive emotions are strongly influenced by the people they work with day to day, by collaboration, teamwork and shared goals, and by a sense of a purpose in work. Emphasizing team goals can be of help here.
  7. Communication: Effective communication is not just about disseminating basic information. Rather it is providing context, commentary and ensuring a two-way dialogue. Employees want to know what management thinks and believes and how it plans to act. And they also want forums to give their input. Communication means not only articulating a vision for the future but also being honest and forthright in dealings with the workforce. Its part of creating the environment of mutual trust, accountability and responsibility that’s important in engaging people and winning discretionary effort. Engage employees through direct communication by involving them in important decisions and keeping them informed of new developments or changes within the company. According to the Institute of Employment Studies (IES), the main driver of engagement is a sense of feeling valued and involved. Listen to employees and act on their suggestions. Just listening and not acknowledging, responding or acting on what is being heard can damage credibility and engagement.
  8. Control: This refers to the freedom to make decisions relating to one’s job. Employees should have appropriate decision-making authority and appropriate decision-making input to be truly engaged. People are much more willing to accept increased risk if they perceive they also have control over decisions relating to that risk as well as relevant information and tools to make good decisions. If you consistently keep your team members fully informed, you are providing them the necessary foundation for them to behave responsibly and accept accountability for making their own decisions. Even when workloads are heavy, being able to control the flow and pace of their work can relieve pressure on employees. So can a feeling that they can turn to managers for resources and support when they need it.
  9. Leadership: A clear vision from senior management about future success and senior management taking steps to ensure company’s long-term success are important in driving engagement. You need to understand and share this vision and action plan with your team. Leadership’s interest in employee well-being also helps increase employee engagement. As a manager you can keep your team updated on what the leadership team is doing to take care of employees. Also don’t miss conveying their message if they specifically ask about a person’s well being. I know every time the MD asks about my team member and I tell her about it how thrilled she looks.
  10. Company credibility: The reputation of a company as an employer, as a corporate citizen and as an industry leader also creates engagement. This determines whether employees take pride in working for the company. Organizations that proactively manage their reputations also enjoy higher levels of employee engagement. Employees distance themselves from the business when they believe their company does not have a good reputation. By talking positively about the company and its practices and by correcting any wrong negative perceptions that employees have about the company, you can contribute to employee engagement.

    Fairness is also important in creating credibility. This refers to acting with equity in sharing rewards, being impartial while hiring and promoting people, being fair in people practices and policies and how well employees are treated in terms of pay and benefits compared to similar organizations. You can ensure fairness in your areas of accountability ie, while making hiring, promotion, performance rating decisions.


You must have figured out by now that building employee engagement is a process that never ends and is a lot of hard work. All the employee engagement drivers are related to the kind of culture and work environment a company creates and nourishes over time. It takes commitment, consistency, trust in employees’ judgment, strong leadership practices and programs that align with and support the desired culture create to create a meaningful and emotionally enriching work experience. Most importantly it takes strong day-to-day management. Yes you, as a manger, are an important factor. You will be the one who will set the tone for your team, taking cues from leadership and the prevailing culture. So, understand employee engagement and practice employee engagement for the risks of not doing so are very high.


  1. ‘Motivating and Retaining Top Talent through Employee Engagement’ August 05, 2008
  2. 'Becoming a Best Employer'
  3. 'Working Today : Understanding What Drives Employee Engagement. The 2003 Towers Perrin Talent Report’

Conducting Effective Meetings : Basic Managerial Skills; V4 Issue 2

Meetings often are unending, boring and unproductive. Yet they are an inevitable part of getting things done at work. And if properly planned and conducted, meetings can generate positive energy and new ideas, encourage exchange of vital communication, ensure decisions and consensus are reached, get work done efficiently, leave participants with a sense of accomplishment and enhance your organization’s overall success. So as a manager knowing how to conduct meetings effectively and efficiently is an important skill. To help you conduct successful meetings, listed below are some key strategies that you can follow.

Tips for Conducting Effective Meeting

   Take care before the meeting: Hold a meeting only if it is absolutely necessary ie., if e-mail, telephone, or a one-to-one communication won’t do. Choose participants appropriately ie., people whose job responsibilities will be impacted most by the topic of discussion, who can provide valuable input and who can take decisions. Define the meeting purpose, develop an agenda accordingly and circulate it so that participants can come prepared. Choose appropriate place, time and time limit. Participants will be more likely to attend meetings if you make them as productive, predictable and short as possible. Allot more time for priority items for the initial period. Plan time for socialising separately during lunch, tea etc.

   Start and end the meeting on time: At the end of the meeting if important issues still need to be reviewed offer participants the option of staying or rescheduling at another time.

   Keep discussion focussed: Stating the purpose of the meeting at the beginning and sticking to the agenda will help ensure that the meeting doesn't stray into a discussion about irrelevant issues. At the same time do not stifle creativity or free expression of thoughts. Use tact to control disruptions and to end discussions when they’re going nowhere or become personal. If topics come up that require significant time for debate, consider whether they can be addressed at another meeting. Your goal is to achieve the objectives you've identified for this particular discussion.

   Encourage candid and intense discussions: For each discussion item ensure all debatable points are debated and  closed. If no robust debate took place then it means people did not state their misgivings and were not honest with their opinions. When people accept an action item after discussing how they feel about it they are most likely to be committed to it and are likely to succeed in getting it done.

   Create an informal environment: In effective meetings people are fully involved in the process. They are able to engage and relate to one another personally and hence are not afraid of being frank with each other. Informality is critical to candour. Allowing some unstructured socialising time before the meeting is one way to help people engage with each other more informally. Figure out appropriate ways to put participants at ease. Welcome the participants, introduce the participants to each other if they are new to each other, allow brief time for exchange of pleasantries, induce humour through sharing of funny stories or anecdotes, include fun energisers etc

   Ensure effective participation of all participants: Some people tend to dominate meetings. But for a meeting to be effective, it’s important to not let one person dominate. Solicit inputs regularly from those who may not otherwise express their views during meetings. Try saying “When I was talking to Asha about this yesterday, she mentioned a possible solution to this issue. Asha, you can explain it to the group better than I can.” Listen attentively and show appreciation for all participant inputs.

   Conclude with actionable points: This is a must. Do not leave any issue open. All action items should include the name of the owner and agreed upon time frames for completion.

   Take care after the meeting: Thank the participants for coming and take their feedback on the meeting process on what can be done better next time. Circulate minutes of the meeting to all participants. Follow up on the agreed upon action points to ensure timely completion.

7 S Framework : Management Funda; V4 Issue 2

You are evaluating a new technology for managing your supply chain process. Wondering whether it will work in your organization the way things are now and if not, how will you make it work? The 7 S framework, a diagnostic tool to assess organization effectiveness can help you here. This tool describes seven interdependent internal factors that need to be aligned for an organization to be successful viz., Strategy, Structure, Systems, Style, Staff, Skills, and Shared Values.

The 7 S framework was born when four people met in 1978. Two of them were Richard Pascale and Anthony Athos who were investigating how Japanese industry has been so successful. They first mentioned the 7 S framework in the article ‘The Art of Japanese Management’ in 1981. The other two were Tom Peters and Robert Waterman both McKinsey consultants who had also been exploring what makes a company excellent. They explained this in their book ‘In Search of Excellence’. McKinsey started using it as a diagnostic tool and since then it came to be known as the Mckinsey 7 S framework.

Understanding the 7 Ss

The 7 factors in the 7 S framework are categorized as either "hard" or "soft" elements:"Hard" elements are easier to define, identify and management can directly influence them."Soft" elements, on the other hand, can be more difficult to describe, and are less tangible and more influenced by culture. However, these soft elements are as important as the hard elements if the organization is going to be successful. The figure below depicts the interdependency of the elements.

More on each of the 7 elements…

  • Strategy: The plan devised to maintain and build competitive advantage over competition, to allocate scarce resources to reach identified goals.
  • Structure: The way the organization is structured, who reports to whom and way in which organization’s units relate to each other.
  • Systems: The daily activities, processes, routines and procedures that staff members engage in to get the job done eg., systems related to recruiting, promotion ,information systems.
  • Shared Values: This is at the center of the model. Also called "superordinate goals", these are the core values of the company that are reflected in the corporate culture and the general work ethic.
  • Style: The style of leadership adopted and how key managers behave in achieving organization’s goals.
  • Staff: The number and type of employees within the organization and how they are deployed.
  • Skills: The actual skills and competencies of the employees working for the company.

A change in one element affects all the other elements. For instance a company looking at adopting speed as a strategy to gain competitive advantage may want to add a core value (shared value) of “empowering employees” to support its strategy. To institutionalize this core value, the organization will then need to transition to decentralization from centralization (structure). It will require a change in the number and type of people required at various work units in the organization (staff) and the kind of capabilities that employees need to have (skills) to take independent decisions. Managers will need to be a more hands off (style).Processes will need to be more robust to support decentralization (systems). So to establish a change one must work on all the factors simultaneously.

Using 7 S Framework

Using the framework is going to be lot tougher than just understanding the concept and will require quite a bit of work. The steps for the same are:-

  • First determine what you want to do. Do you want to improve the performance of the organization by identifying the reasons for your organization not operating effectively? Do you want to introduce some change like a new leadership, organization structure, process etc?
  • Gather as much information about the organisation and all the 7 elements as possible from all available sources such as primary research (observation, interviews with employees), organisational reports, news and press releases, literature review etc.
  • Using the information you have gathered, now examine where there are gaps and inconsistencies between elements. Analyze both the current situation (Point A) and the proposed future situation (Point B) to identify gaps and inconsistencies between them.
  • Now adjust and fine tune all the elements of the 7S model till you reach the desired endpoint. Soft elements will be more difficult to work on, but ignoring them will surely result in failure.
  • As you are adjusting and aligning the elements, you must be prepared to use an iterative and often time consuming process of making adjustments, and then reanalyzing how that impacts other elements and their alignment.


I hope next time when you want to introduce a change you will not wonder what to do to make it a success. Of course you must consider the external elements also which this model does not cover.

You can even use the 7 S framework for improving your team effectiveness. If something within your team is not working, instead of shooting in the dark, the 7 S framework gives you a structure to conduct your analysis. Determine if there are inconsistencies between some of the elements identified by this classic model in your team. Once these inconsistencies are identified, you can work towards aligning the elements to make sure they are all contributing to the shared goals and values of your team.


   7-S Framework(Mckinsey)

   The McKinsey 7S Framework

   McKinsey 7S Framework

   The 7S McKinsey model

Employee Speak: Phanindra Sama, CEO, redBus ;V4 Issue 2


About Phanindra Sama and redBus: Phanindra Sama “Phani” is a Founder and the CEO of redBus.in, India’s largest bus ticketing company. Founded in August 2006, redBus today has operations across 15 states and offers services for 5000+ routes and has built a robust distribution of over 75000 outlets! redBus is amongst Forbes top 5 start-ups to watch in 2010.

Phani has been ranked No. 3 amongst India’s Most Promising Entrepreneurs by Business World. He was awarded Star Entrepreneur of the year at 3i summit, Mumbai and BITSAA 30 under 30 award. He has also been selected as Endeavor Entrepreneur (www.endeavor.org) and TiE Entrepreneur (www.tie.org). Phani, a State ranker in Intermediate examination, Andhra Pradesh Sr. Secondary Board, graduated with distinction from BITS-Pilani, and worked with Texas Instruments, Bangalore before co-founding redBus.

1. redBus closed 2009 with a bang by featuring in Forbes India year end edition as one of the top 5 hottest start-ups to watch in 2010. What are your focus areas for the coming year?

We are scaling up. We have just crossed 200 employees. We will be adding another 75 people. To sustain the past growth rates we will need to be organised differently. So we are restructuring the organisation. We have a good set of people and a desired culture is already in place. So right now I am not as panicked about the quality of people as I was in the earlier days. I believe the current team and our culture will ensure we get in quality people. Now, how we architect the system or how we use each manager’s talent is important. I am trying to implement a matrix organisation with an innovation. There will be only solid line reporting. Functional Mangers will have no reportees. There are a lot of talented people who are on top of state of art technology etc, but they fall flat when they need to manage people and processes. So in our new organisation structure such people will be the functional experts whose entrepreneurial skills company will leverage. Only staff managers will have reportees.

2. Would you agree that the managers have a big role to play in an organisation’s success? Considering the phenomenal success redBus has had in the recent years, which characteristics of high performing Managers do redBus Managers display?

Yes I do. The entrepreneurial characteristics of redBus Managers have contributed to our company’s growth and success. By entrepreneurial I mean the ability to be creative, think out of box, not taking lack of resources as a hindrance but as a challenge. Our managers are quite mature. They roll up their sleeves and are quite hands on at work.

3. Before founding redBus what kind of Managers did you consider as effective Managers and now that you are the CEO has your perspective changed?

Before founding redBus I was a reportee and I thought a manager who was considerate, who would help me learn and grow is an effective manager. Now when I am on the other side, I appreciate those managers who can get things done. In our office we have a photo of JRD TATA with a quote that says “We have to manage people as people ….” Effective Managers are Managers who can influence teams to results and drive performance without losing human touch.

4. Is it necessary for Managers in a start up to have a different set of skill sets as compared to Mangers in an established company, to be effective in their roles?

Yes, certainly. While in mature organisations one has to be good at handling complexity, entrepreneurial skills is what is necessary in a start up.

5. How can Managers who have not been trained in mature organizations build their career and credibility in growing companies? Also, what do Managers of that profile find attractive in working for start ups?

The only way to build a career and credibility, regardless of whether you are working for a start-up or not, is by working sincerely. It is more so in a start-up as the Senior Management has very clear visibility into people’s performance. Managers in start-up find this visibility attractive in working for start-ups.

6. Please share your thoughts on how can small and medium sized organisations groom and grow their Managers?

Start ups can’t afford to invest a lot in formal training. However there are other ways to develop managers. Communication is one such tool. We communicate a lot. CEOs should take every opportunity to talk about and give examples of the management style they would want to build in the company. Even naming a conference room as JRD TATA room, affects the way one behaves when one is in that room. I read a lot of management books. In my one-on-one meeting with my managers, I give them copies of the pages of the message I want to give them. This I find is more effective than giving books. I also believe that people react to mails. People come to office in the morning with a blank mind. So I send a mail in the morning which can influence their behaviour for the day.

One should try and discover good training institutes that charge very nominal fees. They are the ones with no frills, but provide good value for the money one pays. Then there are the networks that technology teams can be part of. These are groups such as Bar Camps, Head start, Open Coffee Club, AMC etc., who interact on the internet and meet up also to exchange ideas. Participation is absolutely free. For instance there is a mobile Monday focusing on mobile Technology, geek night outs that discuss latest software technology on Friday etc. I don’t actually need to participate in these networks since I am not directly dealing with technology but I make it a point to pull my team members along to such meets. Another thing we do at redBus is that every 2nd Saturday we invite people to talk about their favourite topic. My schoolmate spoke about Google maps and earth last week and it opened up new thought processes. Every CEO would know at least 24 talk worthy people and that would take care of topics for 2 years at least. Next Saturday we are having a person talk on software testing and quality.

7. What do you feel are some of the measures, which organisations and leaders in small and medium sized organisations, can take to support and ensure effectiveness among Managers?

I would say stretch as much as possible in terms of paying Managers salaries to get good guys in. Cut down somewhere else, maybe air conditioning, marketing etc. Earlier I made a mistake by saying “This is my budget and I can’t afford to pay more”. I used to spend more on real estate etc. But good people deserve good money. Also, I would say making Managers effective is a lot to do with the CEO’s behaviour. The CEO’s behaviour is mirrored in the company culture and employee behaviour. Hence it is important for CEOs to behave in a way they would like their teams to behave. And do give them all the possible freedom.

Business Quiz : Activity Corner; V4 Issue 2

The world of Business is an exciting one with developments happening every year, ever day and every moment. Here is a Business Quiz to test your awareness and knowledge of this exciting world.

  1. 1.Identify the company.

2. Which company is behind the creation of Mouse used on computers?

3. Tata Sons allocates about 66% of its capital for which purpose?

4. Which organisation instituted the Nobel Prize for Economics?

5. Which brand of scooter when translated into Italian means 'wasp'?

6. "Life is One Incredible Journey" is the tagline of which magazine?

7. What is the name of the mascot on the bonnet of a Rolls Royce?

8. Which company's name is short for Durability, Reliability and Excellence?

9. What is Francisco Tárrega’s 1902 music composition Gran Vals’ claim to fame in modern telephony?

10. By what name is California's Santa Clara County more commonly known as?



These answers are in no way indicative of your actual awareness or knowledge about business. While some of the questions are trivia, most of them can be guessed, and all of them can be determined through a search on Google.com.

My Secret Life on the McJob : Book Review; V4 Issue 2

   Title: My Secret Life on the McJob
   Author: Jerry Newman
   Publication details:Tata McGraw-Hill, 2007
   Number of pages: 203

Looking through the library to find a book to review for Prerana, I found books that were either too preachy, or too factual, until I chanced upon one with mustard and tomato ketchup dispensers on its cover. Titled ‘My Secret Life on the McJob’ and written by Jerry Newman, this book is about life behind the counters of fast food joints like McDonalds, Wendy’s, and Burger King. After the author’s daughter gets a rubber glove finger, in her burger at a fast food joint, the author, a college professor, decides to take a sabbatical to embark on a unique journey to gain insights into the functioning of fast food joints. This leads him through several jobs in various fast food joints, as well as a hospital visit for his bad back including 9 months of rehabilitation.

Jerry Newman a University Distinguished Teaching Professor for the New York State University, Buffalo is the coauthor of 'Compensation', a bestseller and an advisor to firms like AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Burger King, McDonald’s, and Nabisco. However, it was not easy for him to find his first job at a fast food joint. It was only after he had understated his qualifications that he actually found a job. Having been a professor for over 30 years, he was used to being the center of attention and it was difficult for him to adapt to the new circumstances of his choice where he was often “invisible” and not thanked at all for his work. Jerry works in seven different capacities, the Front Counter, the Sandwich Board, as the Fry Guy, the Runner, the Cook, Specialty Prep, apart from doing menial work such as mopping and cleaning the floor. Along his year long journey, he learns that the McJob is not as easy as it is believed. While it pays less and is perceived to be dead end and boring, it does take quite a bit of time and skill to master. Managing workers who are paid less than their counterparts in other restaurants, some of whom have tougher jobs does need quite a bit of personnel management skills, as the book successfully brings across.

The book talks about the different types of managers, and the reasons for their success in different contexts. A toxic manager is one who uses sarcasm very often on the employees in order to get work done or as punishment. A mechanical manager is highly impersonal and is not empathic to employee needs. A relationship manager ensures that the employees develop strong friendships with each other. A performance manager sets specific performance parameters and sets rewards with regard to those parameters. The book also talks about the different kinds of workers. The survival worker is one who is doing the job only to make ends meet. The way-station worker is one who is holding the current job until the next phase in his/her life. An aimless worker does not know what to do in his/her life and thus is doing this job to pass time until something better comes up. A career worker is someone who is doing this job as a career and thus wants to pursue it long term. However, all the employees who hold McJobs have three things in common.

  • They know what goods/services to deliver
  • They know to deliver the goods/services under pressure
  • They work as a team

In the fast food industry, with its employee diversity, communication issues arise because of language and cultural barriers. This is when the practical prowess of a manager is needed. A manager who can understand what the worker is going through is able to manage things better, as compared to a mechanical manager who simply wants things done and works according to the rule book. The author says that the best restaurant he has worked at was a Burger King, and the worst was also a Burger King. So, the work quality is not organization specific, but specific to the culture of a work place. The managers together with the employees in that workplace create this culture.

Training in these restaurant chains happens less on the job, and more through videos that show the slow and deliberate preparation of each item. While on the job, preparations were to be done amidst a lot of clamor and pressure. This goes to show that the training that is imparted must be realistic. Employees are rarely told to have realistic expectations; they are told that the job would be easy and boring, but in reality they end up being high pressure, high speed, and high precision jobs with minimal room for error.

Although the book talks about the way fast food joints are managed, there is a lot to learn about managing one’s workplace on a daily basis. Motivating workers involves not only rewarding them monetarily, because sure enough, just down the road there will be another employer ready to pay more for the same work. In such a scenario, and in an industry where the average industry turnover is about 200%, a lot more than pure monetary motivation is needed. The book gives examples of managers who have managed to keep employee turnover at about 100%, which is an amazing figure for this industry. This book is overall, a quick and interesting read.

Getting Value from Training Investments : Feature Article; V4 Issue 2

My friend attended an offsite training program. On his return he raved about the food, the hotel he stayed in, the nice break he got from work and the interesting people he had met! Sure, these are some of the things we look forward to in a training program. Hey but there was something missing from his conversations. What about the learning? What about his increased ability/skills to contribute to the organization? I am sure you agree with me that a training program should give us value apart from the good feel factor. Unfortunately this does not happen every time. However, there are ways to ensure that individuals and companies get value for the time and money spent on training programs. While getting value from a training program is a shared responsibility between the individual and his/her manager, this article will look at what the manager can do to ensure his team gets value from training . There are three stages in training as illustrated below.

Training gives value when adequate steps are taken at all the three stages of training ie., the planning stage, the training stage and the follow-up or the post training stage.

Ensuring value from training for your team members

As a manager you can play a critical role in helping create the conditions during the planning and post training stages of training, under which training will create value for your team members.


There is a lot of planning to be done to ensure training gives benefit to your team. The actions to be undertaken during the planning stage are listed below.

  • Integrate training with other people management systems: : Training should never be considered in isolation. Be sure it integrates with the performance management system and career development initiatives. It should address the needs of the organization and each individual. On a regular basis identify development needs of your team.
  • Exploit any training opportunity that comes your way: If you want your team members to gain from training you need to grab all possible training opportunities for them. There’s more than one method and one skill to learn. Each training will help them build a specific skill and together they will help them develop in their profession. Also each method will build on the others and reinforce what they are learning. So do incorporate different methods in their training.
  • Ask yourself is training required: Training typically can add value when it helps address a problem. But all problems cannot be solved through training, other solutions to the problem could be more appropriate. Training can help people learn skills, but is not that effective at changing attitudes, and will have minimal effect if the problem is related to other workplace factors. For instance a lack of understanding of your sales team of the CRM implemented can be solved by imparting training on the software. But resistance to using the software by them cannot be addressed through classroom training.
  • Ensure training is matched to jobs: Any training must be planned, and clearly linked to workplace outcomes. Just because a training program is happening and it sounds good don’t nominate team members for the same. See if it is related to their job requirements and will help enhance skills needed in their jobs. A training program that will teach employees skills that are in demand in their profession or that they will utilize within one to two months of taking the class, is sure to prove valuable. Say the company is planning to use psychometric tests during recruitment, training your HR team on the same is beneficial.
  • Understand the objective of the program and define expectations: Whether you have recommended your team member for a training program or your team member has chosen it, be clear on the objective of attending the program and provide this clarity to your team member so that he/she works towards achieving that objective. Also defining expectations clearly at the outset can really help. The expectations can be related to how you expect your team member to apply what he/she has learned and to share what has been learned with other team members. The expectation can also be in terms of what the trainee needs from you so that learning can be applied effectively at the workplace.
  • Get team members to do some preparation in advance: Just sending the person for a training program will not help the person to get full benefit of the program. Make sure he/she meets any prerequisites for the training like completing the pre readings, assignments etc. He/she should know the objective of the program and how it is going to help him/her. He/she should also know enough about the subject to actively participate. It will be futile if the training is not appropriate for employees’ level of expertise, or if they lack enough experience and background knowledge.
  • Choose the right program:
    • Choose a program that fits in with the learning style of the participant: The VAK learning styles model suggests that most people have one of three preferred styles of learning. When one knows one’s preferred learning style(s) one understands the type of learning that best suits oneself. This enables one to choose the types of learning that work best for oneself. The three styles are as follows, (and there is no right or wrong learning style):
  • Choose training that includes job simulations: Why is your team getting trained , not just to just pass an exam but to learn how to do their job well right? In that case it makes sense to choose a training that will provide them real work life experience. Find training that combines this hands-on experience with practice exams, expert video instruction, and written reference material for maximum benefit.

  • Opt for self-paced training for greater flexibility for the team: There are some self-paced training like elearning modules that allows one to review the instruction until one has mastered it. And the best part is when the training is online; one can take it wherever one goes. This lets one work on one’s own schedule, pause to take breaks, and resume right where one has left off.


While as a manager you cannot make much contribution here, you can encourage the participants to do the following.

  • Value the content of the courses more than the entertainment factor: Just because the trainer does not crack jokes does not mean that what he is saying is not useful. So, for starters the participants can value the content of the course more than whether it is engaging or not.

  • Take a leaf from good students/learners: Have you observed what people who are fast learners do. They ask questions even if they think others might consider it as silly doubts. They participate actively and contribute. They are open to changing their past views on the subject being taught. They come with an attitude of ‘I am here to learn everything that you will teach me.’ instead of an attitude of ‘Let me see if you can teach me anything new.’ Discuss these points with your team before they attend any training program.


This is an essential stage where one tends to miss on taking action. It is important to take post training actions to ensure skills are absorbed. Also skills learnt need to be consolidated not through just formal training methods but more with post training actions .

  • Assess Infrastructure: Prior to training, make sure that the infrastructure required to apply what your team members have learned is in place. Suppose if people attend a workshop on the use of a software, training will only add value if the software is available and in place when the person returns from training. Infrastructure need not be just things; it can also refer to time. Remove all barriers to the person applying what has been learned.

  • Ensure practice of and application of what has been learnt in the classroom on the job: Now, this is the key to ensuring you actually benefit from training. Once the team member is back from the training, ensure he/she starts applying that has been learnt wherever he/she can. You must have discussions with your team members to ensure there is implementation of what has been learned in the training program. Get him/her to teach others. Get him/her to further build on the learning had through training. If you don’t ensure this the training would be a complete waste of your time and company’s money.

  • Recognise efforts towards applying what has been learnt in training: A true test of the effectiveness of a training program is whether post training there is a positive change in an employee’s job performance. You must make it a point to monitor this change. And when he/she does apply what has been learnt, you must reinforce of his/her efforts. So if a person who has attended a program on quality makes effort to implement the leanings in his/her function, recognize his efforts and encourage him/her to do so.

  • Conduct Training effectiveness evaluation: Apart from having taken training feedback from the participant the manager must ensure that he/she evaluates the training effectiveness after a defined period of say 3 to 6 months. This could be in the form of a written test or filling up a checklist based on your observation of the person.


Training is just a tool and it is the person using the tool that determines the effectiveness of the tool. Hence, before stating that a training program is ineffective do check whether you followed the steps given in this article. And next time there is a training opportunity for your team you know what to do. Simply PLAN! TRAIN! and FOLLOW UP!


  Whitnah,D,‘10 ways to get the most out of your IT training’, April 26th, 2010

  Walsh, K, ‘Time in Training Often Wasted’, March 15, 2006

  T. Daich, G , Software Technology Support Center/Science Applications International Corporation, ‘Overcoming     Training Dilemmas Brings Greater Training Value’

  Getting Value From Training - Get Some ROI (Return On Investment)


Managing Team Member’s Performance : Basic Managerial Skills; V4 Issue 1

As a manager you are responsible for managing your team member’s performance towards achieving your organisation goals. You can contribute immensely to your organisation’s success by ensuring your team member’s successful performance. Managing your team member’s performance is not only about measuring his/her performance during the annual performance appraisal. It is also about creating a work environment in which people are enabled to perform to the best of their abilities.

Checklist for managing team member’s performance

Essential Actions

      Get the basics right: One simple reason why people sometimes fail to meet
      your expectations is that they don’t know what they are expected to deliver
      on. Developing a clear Job Description will take care of this. Though more
      often than not we inherit teams, as far as possible select the right person
      for the job,
 to ensure the person’s success in that job. Provide him/her
      adequate induction and training required to succeed. Even if the person
      is moving to your team from another department, induction to the new job
      and team is important.


    Plan for performance: To manage performance it is important to set
    performance standards by setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, 
    Aspirational, Realistic, Time bound) goals. Get their buy-in for the assigned
    Goals instead of just handing out the goals so that you have his/her
    commitment for achieving them. Ensure the goals are aligned with the
    department and organisation goals.

The Performance Coach

 Provide on-going coaching and feedback: This is the most difficult and important component. You need to show him/her the ropes of the job, guiding him/her in the right direction. While providing regular and specific feedback that addresses both their strengths and weaknesses, focus more on building on the strengths. Instead of waiting for a performance appraisal provide feedback immediately after behaviour is observed.

Help them work through the blocks to output: The blocks could be different for different people at different times. It could be related to self, team, customer or organisation. Help your team members recognise them and tackle them.

Give wiggle room: While providing guidance take care that you are not breathing down their neck. Give them enough flexibility to exercise their creativity. Encourage new ideas from them. They should feel free to come to you and talk about anything that would contribute to their growth/company’s growth. Once ‘what need to be achieved’ part has been determined leave it to them to figure out the ‘how to achieve it’ part, in alignment with organisation values.

 Recognise a job well done: A pat on the back will spur them on to continue doing well. Any kind of recognition be it in private or public can be a big motivator.

Conduct quarterly performance development discussions: Since frequent performance discussions are not threatening, hold monthly performance discussions. Follow a standard format for the meeting so that team members know what to expect. Always start with positives and get team members to do most of the talking. Ask them to state what they are pleased about since the last meeting and then what they feel they could have done better. Then ask what they feel they need to do differently in future. This way they will not get defensive about improvement areas. If they do not highlight a specific point bring it into the discussion by asking relevant questions. For example ask “How do you feel the negotiation went yesterday? How could you have helped it go smoother?” Get an agreement on action points and next set of goals.

The Supportive Manager

Extend the support necessary to deliver: Make sure all necessary work resources are made available. Step in to ensure there is timely support from the other teams. Help them understand who the key people in the organisation are whose support is required for an initiative to succeed etc. 

Help them see the big picture: Communicate with your team member often about the happenings in the industry, company etc. Send them regular updates on relevant issues. Help them appreciate the impact on their jobs of changes at the organisational level. Help them see how they are contributing to meeting of the organisation goals. Feeling that they are part of something bigger than their jobs will drive them to do better.

 Facilitate team member’s career development: Your goal is to achieve the company’ goals through your team. However, people don’t perform for meeting the organization’s goals, if their own personal goals are not accomplished as well. As a manager you are possibly the best person to help the individual attain his potential and meet his career aspirations. Identify his/her talents, encourage development of his/her skills and identify career development opportunities like job rotation, special assignments etc towards furthering his/her career within the organisation.

Be a caring boss: Create a relaxed, joyful and fun office environment. Be there for them when things go wrong and encourage them to learn from their mistakes. Be flexible. Suppose one of your team members who works extremely hard for you wants to come late one day so that he/she can attend his/her daughter's sports day. By all means, let him/her do this without having to worry about coming late! Genuinely caring for each of your team members will create a bond between you and them, a bond that will increase their commitment to doing a good job.

Catalytic Mechanisms : Management Funda; V4 Issue 1

You have set a really difficult goal like become the number one brand in your industry. How are you planning to achieve it? By including it in your vision? By designing a special incentive program for brand managers? Try implementing Catalytic Mechanisms. The term Catalytic Mechanisms appeared first in a now famous article in the Harvard Business Review in 1999 titled ‘Turning Goals into Results: The Power of Catalytic Mechanisms’. The author was Stanford Professor James C. (Jim) Collins, co-author of best-selling books ‘Good to Great’ and ‘Built to Last’. He defined it as the crucial link between goals and performance.

Characteristics of Catalytic Mechanisms
To understand catalytic mechanisms better we need to understand the five characteristics that distinguish catalytic mechanisms from traditional managerial tools. These are:-

  • They produce desired results in unpredictable ways: Unlike traditional systems which lead to bureaucracy and mediocrity, catalytic mechanisms let organizations achieve greatness by allowing people to do unexpected things and to show initiative and creativity. Most of us are familiar with a catalytic mechanism in 3M. Yes, the rule of letting their scientists spend 15% of their time experimenting and inventing in an area they chose. Imagine how radical this must have sounded in 1956 - not being told what products to work on, just how much time to work.
  • They distribute power for the benefit of the overall system often to the great discomfort of those who traditionally hold power: Catalytic mechanisms accomplish the organization’s goals by distributing power throughout the system and shifting the balance of power from a leader that may inadvertently support a sense of inertia to a system that is ready to implement change. At W.L. Gore & Associates, employees have the authority to fire their bosses - a catalytic mechanism that builds on the idea of non-hierarchical leadership.
  • They have teeth: Just drafting vision, mission etc will not yield results. A catalytic mechanism puts a process in place that ensures result. Take Collins’ example of Granite Rock, a family-owned company that sells gravel, concrete and sand. It wanted to provide "total customer satisfaction and achieve a reputation for service that met or exceeded that of Nordstrom, the upscale department store that is world famous for delighting its customers." It’s catalytic mechanism? A radical policy called ‘short pay.’ At the bottom of every Granite Rock invoice was a line saying "If you are not satisfied for any reason, don't pay us for it. Simply scratch out the line item, write a brief note about the problem, and return a copy of this invoice along with your check for the balance." Every time a customer exercised short pay, Granite Rock learnt or invented a way to run its operations more effectively. "Imagine," says Collins, "paying for airline tickets after the flight and having the power to short pay depending on your travel experience, not just in the air, but during ticketing and deplaning as well.” The short-pay policy forces both learning and change. It drives managers, says Collins, "to relentlessly track down the root causes of problems in order to prevent repeated short payments. It signals to employees and customers alike that Granite Rock is dead serious about customer satisfaction that goes far beyond slogans."
  • They eject viruses: In contrast to traditional controls that are designed to get employees to act in the right way, catalytic mechanisms help organizations to get the right people in the first place, keep them, and eject those who do not share the company's core values. The Nucor Corporation, a successful U.S. steel company, used catalytic mechanisms to create a high-performance environment where innately hard working people thrive and free riders get ejected. For instance people work in teams of 20 to 40; team productivity rankings are posted daily. Though the base hourly pay is 25% to 33% below industry average, a bonus of 80% to 200% of base pay, based on team productivity, is paid weekly to all teams that meet or exceed productivity goals. The story goes that once team members chased a lazy coworker out of the plant.
  • They produce an ongoing effect: Unlike a one off electrifying off-site meeting, an exciting strategic initiative or an impending crisis, a good catalytic mechanism can last for decades. Darwin Smith, Kimberly-Clark CEO, set in 1971 the goal to transform Kimberly-Clark from a mediocre forest-and paper-products company into a world-class consumer goods company. He created one catalytic event ie., selling a big chunk of the company’s traditional paper-production mills. This left no easy escape route from the dream. He also created one important catalytic mechanism ie., committing the company to head-to-head competition with the world’ best consumer-products company viz., Procter & Gamble. Kimberly-Clark would either become excellent at consumer products or get crushed. Unlike just saying “change or die” this catalytic mechanism’s ongoing effect is as powerful today as when it was put in place nearly 30 years ago.

Collins’ Guidelines for creating Catalytic Mechanisms

  • Don't just add, remove:: Instead of adding new initiatives, new systems, new strategies and new priorities, taking something away can be as catalytic. HP started realizing its BHAG, when it removed its “buy internal” rule ie. HP’s started allowing their divisions to buy their components from outside competitors rather than only from HP’s circuit division. Faced with competition, the circuit division’s performance increase dramatically.

  • Create, don't copy: The best catalytic mechanisms for your organization will be the ones that are idiosyncratic adaptations for your organization’s unique situation and not those you copy exactly.

  • Make use of money, but not only money: Research shows that only about half of catalytic mechanisms use money. The effectiveness of Nucor’s catalytic mechanisms lies not only in the weekly bonuses earned but also in the peer pressure and the desire to not let teammates down.

  • Allow your mechanisms to evolve: New catalytic mechanisms may produce unintended negative consequences which need to be corrected. Over time catalytic mechanisms tend to lose their strength. Reinforce them. In the 1990s, worried that fewer people were using the 15% mechanism than in previous decades, 3M put together a task force to reinvent it, bolstering it with special recognition rewards for those who used their 15% of time to create profitable innovations.

  • Build an integrated set of catalytic mechanisms: One catalytic mechanism can do wonders. By that logic if there are several of them wouldn’t they create a greater impact? At Granite Rock apart from ‘short pay’ there are other mechanisms. Compensation ties directly to learning and improvement, not just job performance Only those who do a good job and improve their skills and make a contribution to improving the overall Granite Rock system receive higher than midpoint pay.




Catalytic mechanisms can work beautifully for individuals too. For example a free-lance writer routinely took on more assignments than she needed in order to support her family. Tired of being enlisted as a last-minute babysitter her sister nagged her to do something. So this writer thought of a catalytic mechanism. It was a $200 a day "penalty fee" her sister imposed on her every day she worked on projects in excess of those required to support her family. So folks don’t stop dreaming; there is always some catalytic mechanism to make them a reality. Find it!




   Collins, J, ‘Turning Goals Into Results: The Power of Catalytic Mechanisms’, caplix.com/pdf/Turning%20Goals%20Into%20Results.pdf

   Gilmore,T, ‘Using Catalytic Mechanisms to Drive and Institutionalize Change’, April 18, 2002

   Millar ,K, ‘Forcing Change - Using the Catalytic Mechanism’

Employee Speak: Sunil Kulkarni, COO, Akshayini Oorja

A brief on Sunil Kulkarni: Sunil Kulkarni has a bachelors’ degree in Mechanical Engineering from IIT Mumbai. He has an extensive ‘Power Sector’ experience that spans a period of about 26 years primarily in the hydro sector. He has spent about 13 years with BHEL, 11 years with Tata Power and 1.5 years with Reliance Power. Apart from the technical expertise in hydro power domain, Sunil has had opportunities to develop keen insights into project management. He is currently looking forward to putting his expertise and insights in to the development of a healthy small hydro sector.

1. Can you explain Akshayini Oorja’s unique business model for the benefit of our readers.

With the increased awareness about environmental issues and growing energy needs of large populace, Renewable Energy Sources are receiving additional attention. Governments are increasingly offering incentives in the form of subsidies and assured purchase at reasonable rates. Carbon credits are also available to many of these projects under emission control regime. This has de-risked the business to a considerable extent and hence has generated a lot of investor interest. In spite of this, you do not see many projects coming up. This is mainly because of the lack of proper technical expertise, project management skills and inadequate financial resources. This opens up a good window of opportunity.

To capitalise on this opportunity, India Value Fund (IVF) has formed the company Akshayini Oorja recently to manage (by providing technical, project management and financial expertise) their investments in renewable energy sector, with primary focus on small hydro power projects. We look forward to building a portfolio of about 300 MW in a period of 3 to 4 years.

2. Akshayini Oorja is about to invest in the first hydro power company. Apart from acquiring hydro power companies what would your focus areas for the coming year be?

Now we are in the start up phase. So our main focus areas apart from the core business activities would be to establish the company in the true sense. So we would invest in building the team, setting up processes, developing the competencies of the team etc.

3. According to you will performance management of the organization be a challenge for your kind of set up? In what way will it be a challenge?

This is a start up with a difference. The team has no entrepreneurial stake in the business. A professional team would be meeting the entrepreneurial ambitions of IVF. Recruiting the right people, getting them to work together and leveraging their expertise and experience to meet the business goals are the challenges in the first year. In the first year building a strong team will be important.

4. How are the performance parameters different in the kind of business model that you have as compared to other types of organisations?

The parameters will be more related to desirable behaviour patterns like team spirit, integrity, holistic thinking, leadership etc. Things like domain specific skill excellence will come later. Encouraging cross functional skills will be an important parameter. Everybody needs to understand what the other person is doing, so that he/she can support and stand in for his/her team members when the need arises. Team performance will matter more than individual excellence.

Performance management has to be informal initially. Later the companies in which we have invested can replicate our model in them. Ultimately their performance will be a critical parameter for assessing our performance.

5. I know it is early days; but what are some of the mechanisms you are planning to put in place to ensure you achieve your organisation vision?

We are defining processes in HR, Finance and Project management with help of experts in these areas. When the full team is on board, all the relevant structure would already be in place. This will help us ramp up quickly.

In the initial days informality would be the key. Maintaining the cordial environment for the team to coalesce as one unit and each member to find his/her slot itself would be good Performance Management. Pre-defined KRAs and evaluations based on them will be counterproductive in the beginning. It may even generate performance anxiety.

6. What according to you are the characteristics of high-performance teams / individuals?

While the usual ‘Never say die’ attitude etc is important, there are a few characteristics of high performing teams that are not talked about. One is diversity in the team, not only in terms of skill sets, but also in terms of temperaments. In a team everybody can’t be a Virendra Sehwag, Rahul Dravids are also required and one person cannot be the match winner always. So while somebody could be of a brooding nature, another could be bubbly. Essentially they should be able to support and complement each other. The second characteristic is the basic cross functional appreciation that team members develop across functions. Sehwag knows what Bhajji does and understands Bhajji’s value for the team.

7. Based on your experience how can organisations and leaders encourage and support high performance among teams and individuals?

Every organisation and leader do encourage and support high performance. Some over do it, some under do it. There are various ways…

  • The key is to having at most transparency in the process of measuring the performances.
  • Non monetary avenues can work well. It could be a mention in an assembly, nominations for conferences, exhibitions etc.
  • Special Reward and Recognitions programs for both individual and team performances were developed by HR in one of my previous organisations. That was received extremely well.
  • Delink the process of reward from annual increments, bonus etc. According to me this creates unnecessary division in the team.
  • Fast track schemes where talented people get higher responsibilities and rise faster in the organisation, can motivate higher performance in the individual.
  • Job rotation also helps in acquiring the cross functional appreciation and acts as a motivator. Cement industry is a good example of this where an engineer works in all important departments in the span of 10-15 years and understands his strengths to choose the right career path at senior levels.
  • Performance Management System should not just be a measurement process. One needs to go beyond it and actually focus on managing and improving performance.
  • We need to adapt Performance Management Systems to the nuances specific to the sectors and industries. For example, the Performance Management System mostly designed for FMCG or Software industries are imposed on the hapless people in the power sector where output is difficult to quantify. Smart people always develop a method to cheat the system and sincere ones can get deterred from taking on challenging goals.
  • Getting the ownership, of the people running the business, for the Performance Management is very important.
  • One also needs to nurture diversity in the team.